“A History of the World”

Passages from Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, so far, which are elusive, lovely, ingenious, lyrical and wonderfully poetic:-

(“I’m writing a history of the world,” she says)

The question is, shall it or shall it not be linear history? I’ve always thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting heresy. Shake the tube and see what comes out. Chronology irritates me. There is no chronology inside my head. I am composed of a myriad of Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water.

  • The Nile, at night, is jewelled. The bridges wear necklaces of coloured lights; all along the banks the house-boats are ablaze, festooned with gold, glowing against the dark swirling patterned water.
  • They all went to sleep and when the dawn came up – that transluscent glowing dawn – we were the only ones awake and we watched the line of hills on the far side of the Nile go from pink to amber and the water turn sapphire blue…. Eventually at dusk we got dressed and went down for a drink on the terrace overlooking the Nile. Maybe that was the point when I spoke to Gordon’s acquaintance. If so, he is gone now; all that remains is the long low fawn shoulder of the hill above the Valley of the Kings with the sun going down behind it in a smoulder of gold and pink and turquoise…. I know that I sat in a cane chair, the patterns of the cane printing my flesh through my cotton dress, looking at the river, the white swooping sails of feluccas, the sunset sky in which presently glittered the brilliant enhanced stars of the desert. I know how I felt – richer, happier, more alive than ever before or ever since.

And finally,

Wars are fought by children. Conceived by their mad demonic elders and fought by boys.

I’m now more than about halfway through; it’s impossible to capture the feel of this book through individual quotes or passages, since the entire thing is fragmented, and composed of “shards of thought”, because as Lively says,  memory is by no means chronological. We remember things in “fragments of time”.

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