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In Search of the Blue Tiger has received positive reviews from some critics, although they have noted patches of weakness in its storytelling. I found myself thinking about the characters and the plot for days afterwards, which is always a good sign of a book created to provoke introspective thought. Despite these positive aspects, I am not overly eager to recommend Power’s novel.
Let’s start with a plot breakdown.
In Search of the Blue Tiger is told through the eyes of Oscar Flowers, an 11-year-old boy, who loves the colour blue and loves to read. He is also absolutely fascinated with animals, tigers in particular, and longs to be one. He lives with his parents and his aunt in a small seaside town.
Oscar’s parents are cold and distant and his father physically abuses his mother. Consequently, violence conditions Oscar’s interpretations of the world – he even refers to his home as the house of the Doomed and the Damned (or DAD). As the story progresses, Oscar tries to make sense of the adult world he is forced into being a part of. He is led astray by the conniving twins, Perch and Carp, and then in turn saved and protected by Mrs April, the librarian. When Mrs April allows Oscar to pick books from the adult section of the library, he is immediately drawn to Eastern Mysticism, particularly folk tales of atonement or peace through turning into animals. This theme of humans taking on an animal persona dominates In Search of the Blue Tiger.
Symbolism and metaphor are a big part of this novel and this is where I begin to see problems with the plot set-up.
Some things are a little too obvious for my taste. Having Oscar fixate on tigers is a bit of an obvious metonymy for power and freedom, something that Oscar feels he is without, having seen his father violently assault his mother on a regular basis. Character names seem a little obvious: Fishcutter, Carp, Perch, Brother Saviour, etc. Even the seaside town Oscar lives in is named Tidetown. Other characters feel a little two-dimensional and the two who are most crucial to the book’s climax feel like an afterthought. Oscar seems a little too perceptive for an 11 year old and Mrs April too much of a benevolent mother figure who too easily accepts Oscar’s stranger quirks. The plot’s climax itself feels like it belongs to a completely different novel.
However, once you gloss over these points, In Search of the Blue Tiger manages to take on another form and if you are someone who loves to decipher plot points and metaphors then this book will have you analysing for hours. Not all of the more ‘symbolic’ connotations are clichéd; some are really engaging. Oscar believing that the adults who intersect his life must secretly be shape-shifting animals, as a way to explain cruel adult behaviour, is particularly revealing and poignant. I also loved the thematic spiritual conflict and juxtapositions between the earthy, ancient religions of the east and the clinical, fanatical, ‘modern’ religions in the west.
For those who love to identify literary terms and extended metaphors I would readily recommend Power’s novel. For those of you looking for a fun, light-hearted adventure I would suggest you stay well away.