“The Tiger’s Wife”: Book Group Breakdown

Last month my book group discussed Tea Obreht’s critically acclaimed debut, The Tiger’s Wife, and the discussion started with a bang. I usually try to steer any I loved/I hated statements until the end, but they unleashed themselves early. I will confess that my own conflicted feelings of admiration and frustration with the book contributed to the early blow-up.

One woman in my group announced, “If this is the future of storytelling, then we’re in trouble!” This ignited a side conversation about what young writers and readers and the whole rise of overly clever writing, meta-fiction and books that confuse timelines as to be incomprehensible. They asked–is this really what’s hip/popular/the future of fiction?

Another faction in the group appreciated Obreht’s writing and storytelling style. They liked the interweaving of stories and the balancing of the old and new world elements. But there was some confusion and consternation over the many loose ends and strands that Obreht introduces throughout. I confessed a disappointment in the scant character development of the ‘main’ character and narrator, Natalia. Clearly, her grandfather is the main character, and the narrator as authorial device is nothing new, but I and others noticed the lack.

My book group’s discussion of The Tiger’s Wife illustrated a number of things for me: that it can be hard to guide a discussion when you are feeling ambivalent or unresolved about a book yourself and that it is doubly hard to discuss a book that elicits strong emotions. In retrospect, a lot could have been solved by reviewing facilitation techniques which encourage neutrality. But, then again, you need a breakdown every now and then.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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