The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty | Vendela Vida

Kernel Fi reviews THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY from Vendela Veda, a vibrantly told slow-burn mystery book that is also a glamorous fictional travelogue filled with an unfolding plot and abundant quirky characters. Have put this on my own list to read after Fi’s review. THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY is out now from the fine folks at Allen and Unwin Book Publishers, you can obtain it from all good bookstores or from their own site HERE. Put this one on your own lists, it sounds fun! Enjoy Fi’s review…….all the best……JK.

 

BY FIONA FYFE

As strange as the title author Vendela Vida has created a mesmerising novel about identity, choices and the concept of being a single woman alone in a foreign country. Married to the writer, Dave Eggers (WHAT IS THE WHAT?), Vida is the award-winning author of five books including LET THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ERASE YOUR NAME and THE LOVERS. Interestingly, she is the winner of the Kate Chopin Award given to writer’s whose female protagonists choose unusual or unorthodox paths.

Vida’s protagonist in THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY certainly fits into the unconventional category. Arriving in Casablanca for reasons at first unknown to the reader, her backpack, passport and wallet are stolen as she checks into her hotel. Immediately she finds herself nameless, penniless and at the mercy of the Moroccan police.  The police do little to instill confidence and she resigns herself to the fact that her possessions will never be recovered. Initially she feels distress at the loss of her passport and money but soon decides she has been afforded the opportunity to assume any identity she chooses.

 

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty Book Cover image

 

The book itself is quirky and alternative. As we follow her journey through a number of pseudonyms and later, disguises, the reader too is drawn into the labyrinth of alleys and souks that populate Morocco and one woman’s bid to find herself. Small clues are offered along the way. We know for instance that she is recently divorced and the reasons for this have not been shared with her mother. We know too that Sabine/Reeves/Jane has a twin back in Florida and a two month old niece. Why she is alone in Morocco isn’t revealed until the second half of the book.

Similar to Gillian Flynn’s characters (think GONE GIRL and SHARP OBJECTS), Vida is proficient at constructing female protagonists who don’t or won’t conform to traditional feminine stereotypes. Vida’s anti-heroine is not above lies and deceit or the occasional criminal act. Although she’s towing some pretty heavy emotional baggage, psychologically this gal’s a survivor. And although in many ways there isn’t a huge amount to like about her, I found myself warming to her simply because she wasn’t about to sit back and cop a bad hand. Of course the more we learn of her story the easier it is to feel sympathy for her.

Vida uses a dry wit that is both sardonic and acerbic. The central characters in a couple of Margaret Atwood’s novels (CAT’S EYE and THE ROBBER BRIDE) spring to mind. In THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY, humorous anecdotes and droll observations are delivered in a dead pan style and this tends to heighten their impact. As our Jane Doe encounters increasingly sinister individuals, many with self-serving agendas, her inner voice regales these events to the reader with a vague comic reflection. Regardless of the scrapes she finds herself in, she’s cynical enough to see the absurdity and irony in each situation or predicament.

 

Vendela Vida author image
Author Vendela Vida photographed by Chloe Aftel. Shared with thanks.

 

It’s easy to imagine how a screenplay of this novel would play out. Cryptic flashbacks and an emphasis on the past would surely loom largely. We are told that when she was back at home in the U.S. something momentous had occurred and was the catalyst for her subsequent unraveling. There has been pain and there has been betrayal and Casablanca was going to be the beginning of a fresh start.

One critic has described Vida as “the love child of Camus and Highsmith” and undeniably there are parallels between the kinds of psychological thrillers Highsmith excelled at. The novel delivers twists and turns and a slow burning menace. It is quite unlike anything I have read in the last year. Part of the mystery and enigmatic quality of the book must surely be attributed to the exotic setting of Casablanca, complete with a faux Rick’s Café Americain as in the movie. The cultural diversity and the language barrier (French and Arabic are the main languages spoken in Morocco) increase the protagonist’s sense of isolation and disconnection.

A significant aspect of the novel appears to be the way in which the people the leading lady encounters feel justified in departing from the usual social niceties as if the idea of being in a foreign land somehow gives them carte blanche to behave outlandishly or unscrupulously. As in a Neil Gaiman novel, notably AMERICAN GODS, the other characters in the book are a treasure trove of misfits and odd balls with their own psychoses. The bottom line here is expect the unexpected. There are certainly no disappointments.

 

4 Pops

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.