The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
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.