By Lucy Beresford
7:00AM BST 08 Aug 2012
Summers are made for novels like Liza Klaussmann’s debut, a sophisticated page-turner, where danger and pain throb in every tight-lipped silence, every casually cruel remark, every misinterpreted gesture.
Five separate narrative fragments shed light from different angles on the Derringer family between 1944 and 1969: glamorous Nick, her stoic husband, Hughes, and daughter Daisy, plus Nick’s adored cousin Helena and her creepy son Ed. It’s a satisfying structure which allows for multiple ironies around suppressed thoughts, a peeping Tom, an unposted letter and an unsolved murder on an island off America’s east coast.
At the heart of the novel lies Nick’s recklessness, her “rapacious appetite for life”, which draws men to her but which also destroys, an emblem of the way life is a conflict between liberty and security, how one person’s freedom is another’s ball and chain. In this subtle novel, Nick’s longing to be free (“I just can’t… breathe”) links her as much to what turns out to be two murdered women – one strangled, one suffocated – as to all women who once strained at the leash of post-war domesticity.
Klaussmann is the great-great-great-granddaughter of the American novelist Herman Melville, but it’s a different literary icon, Hemingway, whose influence is apparent in the simplicity of her language and observations: “It was a perfect martini and he sat there thinking about that and about Nick and about the smell of the paint.”
Tigers in Red Weather is an old-fashioned novel in the very best sense, with a deeply textured fictional landscape just begging to be stepped into, and vulnerable characters you care about as much as if they were your friends or family. Ed’s self-imposed research project, to understand why some people can’t behave authentically, fails to identify that the threat of loneliness haunts us all and compels many of us to be impulsive.
It’s also a novel firmly rooted in the American tradition, in its examination of pipe dreams and lost dreams, and should give encouragement to anyone who fears “they don’t write ’em like that anymore”. I read it the first time in one sitting, and envy anyone about to start it, with that delicious pleasure ahead of them.