Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: Introducing The Tiger's Wife

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Author Tea Obreht and, right, the cover of The Tiger's Wife.
Author Tea Obreht and, right, the cover of The Tiger's Wife.

Typing The Tiger's Wife into Google a few months ago would have generated thousands of hits about a certain professional golfer's preference for playing away.

But the world has forgotten about the porn stars and the cocktail waitresses, the explicit text messages and chat show confessions. Forget the model wife hiding behind designer shades as she scuttles the children to a blacked-out car.

Search for "The Tiger's Wife" today and you'll find Ms Nordegren-Woods has once again been cast aside in favour of a young blonde. Only this time it's Téa Obreht and her eagerly anticipated debut novel.

The Tiger's Wife is the story of Natalia, a young doctor from an unnamed Balkan state, searching for meaning in the strange circumstances of her grandfather's death. Natalia is drawn to two stories that, in her words, "run like secret rivers" through her grandfather's life: the story of the tiger's wife and the story of the deathless man.

It is a novel about love, loss, the power of storytelling, and a country fragmented by a brutal civil war.

I say "eagerly anticipated" because last June The New Yorker named 25-year-old Obreht the youngest of its 20 best fiction writers under 40 before her book even came back from the printers. Since publication, reviewers have praised Obreht's vibrant imagery and skilful interweaving of fact and folklore, ritual and superstition. British paper the Sunday Times dubbed her "a compelling new voice"; its rival the Daily Telegraph "A natural born storyteller". A few weeks ago she made the shortlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Despite - or perhaps because of - these accolades, I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. The trouble with such a fairytale ascendancy through the literary ranks is that it can be off-putting. The whopping mound of expectations accompanying such a "must read" makes it almost bound to disappoint. Like watching a comedy after a friend tells you it's the funniest film ever.

And then I read this, from British paper the Independent: "Beautifully executed, haunting and lyrical ... an ambitious novel that succeeds on all counts. It's a book you will want to read again and again."
That sounded like the kind of book we're seeking for Fiction Addiction.

So I'm putting aside all predictions of greatness to concentrate on what's on the page.

If you are reading or planning to read The Tiger's Wife I'd love to hear your thoughts as I blog throughout this month.

Next week the author will be in town for the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival. (You can catch her at An Hour with Téa Obreht at the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre on Sunday 15 May at 2.30pm. There's still time to enter our competition to win tickets. Details below.

If The Tiger's Wife is not for you, check out Bronwyn's choice. This month she's reading When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman, another title we hope will keep you turning pages.

* Be in to win a double pass to An Hour with Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife, at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, May 15, 2011, 2.30pm-3.30pm at the Aotea Centre, Auckland. To enter, click here and tell us about the best book you've read in the last year. Competition closes at 10am on Monday, May 9.

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