When I realised that the main protagonist of Allie Cresswell’s latest novel, Tiger in a Cage, was not quite the heroine I had believed her to be, I was quite taken aback; I had not seen it coming. I didn’t want to believe it. But rather than leaving me disappointed, the author had me enthralled, my interest firmly anchored in this character I wanted to despise, but couldn’t. Cresswell had managed to get me on the side of someone who, in real life, I would probably have no time for.
It’s what Cresswell does so well. Her heroes are not perfect, her villains are not evil; rather, they are all inevitably human, neither completely good nor bad, merely tainted with the flaws of what it is to be human. We recognise ourselves in them, can identify with and understand their motivations; we can stand back and observe their actions from our lofty moral heights, and judge them for it. It’s what makes Cresswell’s characters so real, and our involvement with them so gripping and immersive.
Tiger in a Cage follows the life of repressed housewife and mother, Molly. Trapped in a loveless marriage with a man she comes to despise, she sets herself up as the heart of her community, insinuating herself into the homes and lives of her neighbours, revelling in the notion of their dependence on her, seeing herself as the pivot around which they all revolve. Outwardly, life seems perfect, but it’s a false idyll she has created to compensate for the truth. Behind closed doors stalks an alternate reality Molly refuses to admit; there is more than one caged tiger yearning for its freedom in the Close.
Cresswell crafts her novels lovingly, taking time to polish them to perfection. She plays with words, linking them together in unique ways, creating stories rich in detail and lavish in language. Her plotlines are subtle and weaving, the characters and their lives all overlapping and inter-connecting in unexpected ways. She is a wordsmith in the true sense of the word.