The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

Vendela Vida

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty
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The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

Vendela Vida

In Vendela Vida’s taut and mesmerizing novel of ideas, a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. While checking into her hotel, the woman is robbed of her wallet and passport - all of her money and identification. Though the police investigate, the woman senses an undercurrent of complicity between the hotel staff and the authorities - she knows she’ll never recover her possessions. Stripped of her identity, she feels burdened by the crime yet strangely liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone she chooses

A chance encounter with a movie producer leads to a job posing as a stand-in for a well-known film star. The star reels her in deeper, though, and soon she’s inhabiting the actress’s skin off set, too - going deeper into the Casablancan night and further from herself. And so continues a strange and breathtaking journey full of unexpected turns, an adventure in which the woman finds herself moving further and further away from the person she once was.

Told with vibrant, lush detail and a wicked sense of humour, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is part literary mystery, part psychological thriller - an unforgettable novel that explores free will, power, and a woman’s right to choose not her past, perhaps not her present, but certainly her future. This is Vendela Vida’s most assured and ambitious novel yet.

Review

In Vendela Vida’s latest novel, the unnamed protagonist leaves her life in Florida and arrives in Morocco. Almost immediately she begins to wonder if every move she’s making is the wrong one; not only by spending three days in Casablanca – her guidebook advises that it’s a place you leave  – but tipping using American money, and staying in the wrong hotel when there were much more appealing options.

Choice, and the choices we make, is what’s important in The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, and the protagonist has ample opportunity to fixate on her decisions. When her backpack is stolen it sets in motion a series of events that tips her life out of control. It’s stunning how rational and believable it seems for the young woman at the centre of this book to change and adapt her identity.

The real art here is how Vida never allows the tension to lift, and, though the pleasures of the novel lie in the discovery of the plot, which I won’t go on about here, it’s the bizarre turns the narrative takes as it moves from the disturbingly real into something much funnier, stranger and darker.

Vida has also made use of the second person, the ‘You’ of the story is never given her real name – though she offers up a number of aliases – and the details of her past are kept mostly in the dark. While this can, and does, have a distancing effect in some places, it helps to raise the immediacy of what’s happening. The book flows quickly, as the protagonist’s past is slowly revealed. By the end, the story has turned into something quite heartbreaking.


Chris Somerville works for the online team at Readings.

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