Polly Clark – Tiger (3 stars)

Polly Clark -- Tiger

A unique read about fearsome predators that shows off some stellar research

If you read Polly Clark's Helensburgh-set debut novel Larchfield and fell for her tale about a mother and WH Auden, then you might be surprised that her second offering focuses on a fierce predator. The story begins with a prologue located in the Russian Taiga of 1992, depicting a hunter who is taught a lesson about the forest's natural order. This leads the novel to unfold in three individual parts, all unique in place and character but connected through the force of one tiger and the universal fight for survival.

Firstly there's Freida, an ex-Bonobo researcher who's been fired from her post for stealing morphine to help in the aftermath of a terrible assault. She finds herself at the unconventional Torbet Zoo, where keepers are encouraged to go in with the animals. A Siberian tiger-breeding programme has been launched there and a one-eyes tigress named Luna rattles into Frieda's life to change the course of her self-destructive path. We then switch to a Russian conservationist living with his father and colleagues in one of the world's harshest environments. While working to preserve the wild tigers, he comes across a native family trying to survive in the natural world.

As the book comes full-circle and the three separate worlds collide, the fundamental differences between humans and animals are reinforced. The level of detail and knowledge in the book is impressive and gives the book a uniquely authentic vision. Although the separate stories don't completely gel harmoniously, this is a compelling and imaginative read.

Out now via Quercus.

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