"A decade ago I fell ill,' writes Inga Clendinnen at the beginning of Tiger's Eye. 'Fall is the right word; it is almost as alarming and quite as precipitous as falling in love.'
In this deeply personal memoir an eminent historian explores her own history. She dramatises the ways in which illness challenges and subverts the self, and explores how writing can become part of the imperative to recover.
This is an absorbing and lucid account of the mind at particular extremities: of razor-sharp recollection, of weird hallucinatory narratives and of heightened creativity. It is a book about the transitions between memory and history and fiction, and how the liberated imagination negotiates its way among them.
Vivid and compelling, the subject of Tiger's Eye is not being ill or well, but being alive.
'Tiger's Eye is an exhilarating and poignant book … brilliant in it energy and its depth of self-revelation. Its wildness and disarray are textured and transforming.' Peter Craven, ABR
Although Australian author Clendinnen is a specialist in ancient Mexican cultures, readers may remember her best for Reading the Holocaust. Here, she turns her historian's eye inward, to make sense of the year when, in her 50s, she was felled by acute liver disease and found that only by writing could she free herself at least psychologically and intellectually from the confines of her hospital bed. Yet Clendinnen does not burden us with a sentimental account of her near-death experience; instead, she carefully explores the root of history, fiction and the self: "Janus-faced" memory. In the course of writing, Clendinnen discovers that her memory is eel-like, selective, inaccurate and biased, despite her best efforts to pin it down. This realization leads her to new insights about historical inquiry and about the porous border delineating fact and fiction. At one point during her recovery, she was unexpectedly interrupted by hallucinations subconscious dreams that weave bits of her own history with fiction so she decided to try her hand at fiction, producing a series of brief, tantalizing characters and situations that deepen this devastatingly beautiful, intricate and wide-ranging work. Ultimately, though her exploration of "I" leads to better self-understanding, Clendinnen chooses not to dwell on herself, but to return to history, "where I began." Aimed at women of a certain age who are taking stock of themselves and the world around them, Clendinnen's book offers a rare and original meditation on the construction of the self.