On the one hand, I am left with the feeling that this author can write, and that she can tell a good tale, as she does here with the tales of the Deathless Man, of the Tiger’s Wife of the title, Luka's story, the bear man. On the other I am left feeling that as a story the book as a whole is missing something, that the totality is less than the sum of its parts, that what Obrecht may have been attempting just doesn’t quite come off.
I’d like to do a close read and see if I could make sense of how the history of what is clearly the former Yugoslavia can be found in this books characters and sub stories. Sorobor is clearly Mostrar with its famous old bridge, sadly no more, and the unnamed City must be Belgrade, but I wished it had been clear. The former Yugoslavia’s factions – Serb, Croat, Moslem, Christian, are also all there. Perhaps how it all fits together is not apparent to me because I don’t know enough about the small details of its disintegration, else its because the ambitious analogy doesn’t work because the thread holding all the individual stories together is not strong enough. Which ever it is, I found myself slogging through the last third of the book, slightly bored by proceedings.
As I said, the author can clearly write, her potential as a story teller is in no doubt and this is after all her first novel. So whilst I think that in parts it is much better than the other Orange Prize short and long list contenders I have read so far, It is not my favourite read so far (which sadly didn't get shortlisted), although I would not be at all surprised if the judges disagreed with me :) However, I will make a special note to keep an eye open for next novel and look forward to seeing how she develops her style in the future.
Verdict: author with potential