Friday, March 25, 2016

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

(hb; 2015)

From the inside flap:

". . . a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. Almost immediately, while checking into her hotel, she is robbed, her passport and all identification stolen. The crime is investigated by the police, but the woman feels there is a strange complicity between the hotel staff and the authorities—she knows she’ll never see her possessions again.

"Stripped of her identity, she feels both burdened by the crime and liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone at all. Then, a chance encounter with a film crew provides an intriguing opportunity: A producer sizes her up and asks, would she be willing to be the body-double for a movie star filming in the city? And so begins a strange journey in which she’ll become a stand-in—both on-set and off—for a reclusive celebrity who can no longer circulate freely in society while gradually moving further away from the person she was when she arrived in Morocco."


Diver's Clothes is a love-or-hate novel. Vida not only tells the story through a second-person point-of-view (told in the present tense, with lots of "you"s), but her protagonist -- a flighty, irrational woman -- often makes bizarre, ill-advised decisions that may be off-putting to some readers. (The reasons for the protagonist's irrationality are eventually, somewhat revealed.)

Normally, a book like this would not appeal to me. What compelled me to read Diver's Clothes was that I am a fan of Vida's work, which consistently has an exotic surreality, an dangerous dreaminess to it, as well as her swift-paced, turn-on-a-dime storytelling. Also, this book has the feel of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, where the protagonists plunge headlong into unpredictable situations whilst panicking -- and trying not to think too long on the consequences of their wild, criminal decisions. (I am not the first person to note this; the same person who made the Vida-Highsmith connection also suggested an Alfred Hitchcock link, which makes sense: Hitchcock filmed a loosely adapted version of Highsmith's Strangers on a Train.)

If you can get past the second-person POV and the protagonist's bad decisions (which threaten to bury her even as their repercussions amass), this is a hard-to-put down read. The tale's finish is open-ended, keeping with the tone of what precedes it, with Vida providing sufficient foreshadowing to suggest that this, too, while a bad choice, is also an exhilarating (and character-true) one.

Borrow it or check this out from a library before you buy it, if you are iffy about Diver's Clothes: better to spend money on something where you are fairly certain you will like it, right?

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