Mary Irvine review: Polly Clarke – the tiger lady! Booked! Festival

Booked! Festival Alexandria Library Friday, 17th May, 2019

Polly Clarke – the tiger lady!

Polly Clarke, born in Toronto, now domiciled in Helensburgh and London (where she does her writing on a houseboat) sashayed down the aisle in a stunning, single-tiger print dress which she later confided had been discovered on the Internet – a must buy for the presentation of her new book ‘Tiger’.

In interview with Allan Gordon she revealed the research behind the book, saying that to some extent the book had been pre-written. As a one-time zoo-keeper (Edinburgh) in charge of birds – men looked after the BIG animals – she developed an interest in and a love and admiration of tigers, not least because they were untameable. She did mention Aspinall’s opinion and work in this area.

In researching the book she travelled to Eastern Russia, concentrating on the Siberian tiger. Drawing pictures of a solitary animal protecting its 500 square miles of territory in Siberia, her vivid descriptions of its general size, in particular the paw, were truly awe inspiring. Polly clearly displayed her interest in the relationship between human and animal. In this she contrasted the differing relationships and this comes through in the novel, when the protagonist Frieda (a zoologist!) discovers the difference between humans/bonobos and humans/tigers. Polly was pleased the once critically endangered Siberian tiger was now recovering, not least because of the support and intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But she expressed sadness that no high profile supporter had stepped forward to do likewise for the endangered bonobos, whom I believe are human’s nearest relatives.

The book does, I suspect, draw heavily on Polly’s own work experiences for characters but, for me, the tiger is the real hero. And who doesn’t admire the magnificence of tigers – at a safe distance! It’s a book well worth the reading.


Tiger by Polly Clark is published by Quercus and available on Amazon at £9.99 Kindle, £7.03 paperback, £11.13 hardback.

Larchfield, her much acclaimed debut novel published in 2017, won the MsLexia Novel Prize and was shortlisted for the 2018 Costa First Book award. It is also available on Amazon at £3.99 Kindle, £7.99 paperback and £10.99 hardback.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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