It was difficult to read this novel without a growing sense of foreboding. The very title can mean retribution, or it can also mean an enemy in North American usage. The very ambiguity of the interpretation of the title feeds into Bucky’s feelings of guilt and makes the reader question why Bucky feels he must shoulder so much blame for the polio epidemic that is raging through New Jersey while World War II is being fought in Europe and the Pacific. Is he really an agent of doom, or can he never forgive himself for not being fit enough to fight in the armed services? Bucky can run, but he can’t hide. The novel also questions the existence of a cruel or a caring God and leaves you feeling unsettled and angry and upset for Bucky, the life thrust upon him, and the choices he has made.
I’ve been a Penelope Lively fan for years, so I jumped at the opportunity of attending a radio recording of her talking about her Booker prize winning novel, Moon Tiger. I’ve been to the BBC Radio Theatre several times, but this was a World Service programme, so it took place at Bush House.
The experience was a completely different one. We were taken down a couple of flights of stairs and across a courtyard then down a further couple of flights, ending up in the bowels of Bush House. Having started out at the Kingsway entrance to the building, we were now over on the Strand side. In a highly civilised manner we were offered glasses of wine before going into the studio, where Penelope was already seated with Harriett Gilbert. There were only about 30 of us in the small studio, and I was told that mine was to be the second question of the programme.
After Harriett introduced Penelope, the writer read a short passage from the novel before taking the first question. The pattern of the programme was a series of questions, some taken from the audience, others put to Penelope by Harriett, who had received them by email, and a couple more came in by phone from around the world. It was interesting to take into account the questions posed by others and to learn of some of the writer’s insights into her working processes and the building up of character.
My question was on the conflicting perspectives given in the novel, others asked about the research put in to build up a story, why the story didn’t have a necessarily happy ending and how much of the writer was in the protagonist.
It will be interesting to listen to the programme when it is broadcast in a few weeks, especially as our hour and ten minutes in the studio will be edited down to 53 minutes. After that the programme will remain in the BBC’s archives indefinitely.