Leanne Hall, Iris and the Tiger, Text, 27 Jan 2016, 240pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN:9781925240795
Iris and the Tiger is its own piece of surrealist art. It’s inexplicably wondrous and confusing. It might need twisting around to view it from another angle. It’s confusing if you try to explain it too much. But it resonates, and it offers you a glimpse into a new world. And it defies labels, and challenges preconceptions. So there will be readers who love or hate it. It’s its own thing.
Iris Chen-Taylor is twelve years old. On the first page of the book, her parents basically send her to Spain to spy on her Great-Aunt Ursula, to ensure her great estate is not going to be left to someone other than Iris’s parents. It is very un-subtle, and lucky for them that Iris is struggling at school with friendships and fitting in. She happily agrees to fly to Spain solo, for ten days to visit Bosques-de-Nubes (translates to Forest of Clouds) to check out the situation. If readers can get past that contrived and often used plot point, then what happens next will be wondrous and fun.
Spain is a magical place, and Iris has many real and not-so-real adventures, and discovers possibilities of a wider world opened up to her through Great-Aunt Ursula and all her friends. Most incredibly is the art movement, Surrealism, which is a major component of the story. Hall teaches us some basic lessons about art without ever losing the thread of the narrative.
There are unusual goings-on and impossible sightings around Ursula’s estate. Iris is open to the idea of magic, and impossible things, so she dives into the mysteries with an open-mind, and an open heart. Her friendship with Jordi is well developed, and the other secondary characters are given personalities and important parts to play in Iris’s expanding education and inevitable growth. The underlying issue regarding her crumbling friendship with Violet, her friend back home, is handled delicately, and readers have to sort through the muddle for themselves, and arrive at their own conclusions.
So, while this is a mystery (who wants the estate, and why?), it’s also a book about friendship and trust, and as Iris learns to accept that grown-ups sometimes lie and behave badly, there is also a message about being true to yourself. It’s also quite unbelievable in parts, but Hall manages to ground her main character so well, that the strangeness that is the Exquisite Creature and Senor Garcia, can be accepted and appreciated. Just like a piece of Surrealism. If you give it time, and patience, and open your heart to it…
Reviewed by Trisha Buckley