Often, during my secret resting sessions in the enclosure, I stared up at the black of the night sky. Were the bonobos interested in the stars? I wondered. Was it a matter of curiosity to them that, some dark nights, their familiar sky exploded in these countless pinpricks of light? Bonobos are intelligent and emotional in a way that humans can relate to and measure; they have a system of relationships that we might describe as a culture. They do a lot of deep thinking. They have self-consciousness too. Did they wonder what would become of them in the future? When they saw their old or sick companions fall ill and die, did they wonder what happened to them?
Last year, instead of seeking out comfort reads and go-to authors, I forayed into “new”-ish writing. Although, Polly Clark is not new to me. I loved her debut novel Larchfield, and have wanted to read more by her since. It’s just, sometimes books choose their own time.
Anyway, once I eventually picked up Tiger I was hooked.
We start off with a tiger attacking a poacher. Then we meet a zoologist in the UK, who falls asleep in the bonobo enclosure.
Now this doesn’t in itself sound very thrilling, but Clark’s writing lets us know that there is more to the scene. Dr. Frieda Bloom has a past that does not let her rest much. So, when fear catches up with her, she is seeking escape where she can.
I had a hunch that this book would be thrilling even though it is not a thriller. Well, it isn’t based on crime. And yet, Clark can write a tense psychologically driven plot as well as any “popular” thriller author.
And the first half of the books certainly lived up to my expectations.
‘Mine!’ called Gabriel, holding back the others, as if about to take a free kick. He crept around the table as the mouse finally came to its senses and made a run for it. In an action that seemed to take ages and ages, Gabriel turned to look at me. ‘Kinder, this way,’ he said with a wink, and then, stretching his great crane leg, he squashed the mouse with his vast zoo boot.
He raised his arm victoriously to cheers, and, as discreetly as I could, I exited through the plastic sheeting and ran to the staff toilets, where I retched into the bowl. A brown torrent of chocolate poured from me. There were so many things I had grown accustomed to. Spiders, snakes, dark spaces, blood. But not this. The endless cruelty that seemed to follow Gabriel, wherever he went.
Unfortunately, just as Frieda’s story seemed to be on the edge of a solution, the book breaks off quite abruptly and changes it’s narrative. The second half of the book lost me. Clark changes the book from Frieda’s story to the story of Tomas, a conservationist, then to a woman living in the Siberian wilderness, and lastly to that of a tigress in Siberia.
I tried for a long time to make sense of this shift and connect the different parts of the story. However, I just can’t. Sure, they all are broken characters in some way, and they all are trying to find a way of living on or overcoming their individual issues, but there was something missing for me. This was a very experimental piece of work and I appreciate what Clark seemed to want to do, but it didn’t work for me.
Still, I will always fondly remember Larchfield.