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The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty: A Novel…

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty: A Novel

by Vendela Vida

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It's every travelers nightmare ~~ jet lagged, tired, disorientated, and at your most vulnerable ~~ you're robbed. This is exactly what happens to a nameless American woman in the unconventional novel, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty.

While checking into her disappointing hotel in Casablanca, her backpack, holding her wallet, passport, computer, and all her money, is stolen while her back is turned.

(Let me stop here to say I heard Vendela Vida --don't you love her name?--interviewed on Fresh Air -- the author got the idea for this novel after her own experience of being robbed in a foreign country.)

The police investigating the theft are blatantly incompetent, perhaps in on the theft, and in the end return a backpack, but it's not hers. It contains another woman's wallet, money, passport, and (still working) credit cards.

While she is understandably panicked by the crime, she realizes she is also strangely free to become anyone she wants to be. Our nameless narrator takes the backpack and assumes the new identity.

Little by little, during this slim little novel, we are given her backstory An ugly divorce and a betrayal by her twin, allows us to understand why she escaped to Morocco and her need to create new personas.

The novel is written in second person singular (i.e.: you)
"You know who you are; other people do not need to."

This voice is actually more intimate than the first person singular, as if we are co-inhabiting each new identity. She is recruited to play a famous actress's stand-in for a film being filmed in Casablanca, she substitutes for the actress on a dreaded date with an older gentlemen, and even meets Patti Smith.

Ms. Vida describes the details of our narrator's experiences through all the senses -- we feel the heat, smell the traffic exhaust, but most impressive were the scene descriptions -- almost as if they were stage sets:

"...(you) enter an enormous lobby. Its sofas are mocha colored and deep and plush. The kind of sofas that are easy to relax into, and difficult to rise from. White orchids are staged artfully throughout the lobby and Lauryn Hill must pulses softly through the speakers. Everyone is dressed as though going to a business meeting in London or an upscale lunch in New York. No one is dressed as though they are in Morocco..."

Smart and witty, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, explores the possibility of freeing ourselves from the shackles of our identity. How easily appearances, and identities, can be changed. What happens when we choose to become a creation of our own making? When we are able to fully escape our past history?

This is not a travel novel, but rather a reflection on reinvention, lying, and an endless world of possibilities. Shedding her painful past, our narrator restyles herself through several new personas, and finds a surrealistic new freedom on her journey

The title, by the way, is from a Rumi poem, of the same name which ends,

“Your hidden self is blood in those, those veins that are lute strings that make ocean music, not the sad edge of surf, but the sound of no shore.”

Similarly, Ms. Vida leaves the ending open to the endless possibilities of having "no shore" ~~ as our character assumes yet another identity, but this time, with a hint of future happiness.

An appropriate ending for such a wonderfully unconventional and affecting story.

Vendela Vida, a San Francisco resident, is the co-founder of the literary magazine The Believer. Her husband, Dave Eggers, founded the literary journal McSweeney’s and the wonderful San Francisco literacy project 826 Valencia.

An advanced readers copy was provided by Harper Collins Publishers back in 2015.
See all my book reviews at http://www.bookbarmy.com ( )
  BookBarmy | Apr 13, 2017 |
discovered via Michael Silverblatt's interview of author on KCRW's Bookworm Podcast. A story about female identity, especially its tendency to be malleable and to take on the necessity of the time & place and the needs of others. The protagonist escapes identities when the facade crumbles and she can no longer be pleasing, only to assume another available identity. The ending is ambiguous, but hopeful.

The author does well at asking questions with her story and making me feel the protagonist experience of entrapment, she simply wishes to hide and be safe.

The story is set in Morocco and within a movie being filmed in Casablanca. There is a sense of the place, as well as the dynamics of shooting a movie. ( )
  lgaikwad | Mar 8, 2017 |
this is why I seldom read female authors. way too gimmicky to write in second person. yikes. ( )
  gpaisley | Jun 18, 2016 |
set in Morocco. strange behavior of main character. typical non-traveler, but still interesting to hear and follow this unpredictable story. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Jun 7, 2016 |
You go into this book thinking you know what will happen. But you are wrong, and realize that you do not know anything. You do not even know who is speaking, or if you are you.

Ok so the whole point with that was to show how the book is written in 2nd POV. At first I was a bit what? I can't even remember the last thing I read anything in 2nd POV. But in the end it did help with the dilemma the main character is facing.

The main character, who has no name, since we are on the outside and in her head. She comes to Casablanca, her things gets stolen. She takes on another persona. She gets a job all the sudden. She wonders about her stolen persona. She is lying to everyone. And then we found out that she is also lying to herself. Little by little the pieces fall aside and we learn about her. That is when I really started to feel sorry for her.

The book feels intense even though it's short and not intense. It might feels so cos we are stuck in her head. You feel what you feel.

The end was rather sudden, I did want more. But I wish her the best.

Enjoyable. ( )
  blodeuedd | Mar 2, 2016 |
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We may brayingly announce ourselves to the world and crave its notice, but we desire freedom from the self too, the freedom to be someone else or perhaps to be no one at all.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, PARUL SEHGAL (Jun 17, 2015)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062110918, Hardcover)

From the acclaimed author of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and The Lovers comes a taut, spellbinding literary thriller that probes the essence and malleability of identity.

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 humor, 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:01 -0400)

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