Author(s): 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 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.
This had me thinking, laughing out loud and completely enthralled for a few days. If you like the writing of Jennifer Egan, Rachel Kushner and Shelia Heti you will want to read this. Set in Morocco, the story opens with our protagonist on a plane avoiding someone – she doesn’t want to be noticed. So we are given a glimpse of a life going awry. We know she is preparing to divorce, that she has a secret – a situation that upsets her that she can’t face. On arriving at her hotel her bag is stolen and suddenly she has no credit cards, no passport, and no ID. The police look into it and claim her bag has been recovered. They give her the black backpack – actually they insist she takes it! And then things start getting crazy. She has credit cards, a passport, but she’s taken on someone else’s identity. As she flips through a series of events in Casablanca, she moves through a variety of identities changing her name, her appearance and telling tales. Paranoia, a heightened sense of being found out, and a desire to keep running dictate her options. Written unusually in the second person, we as the reader are taken into her confidence and waking alongside her, sometimes amused, sometimes shocked at her risky and often audacious behaviour. But we can’t help but feel that we are part of this, kind of egging her on to take control, to be autonomous from her past life. Her back-story is deftly revealed - it is both unexpected and yet completely believable. Her wild behaviour and her desire to be someone else all make sense. - Stella
Heroine on plane to Casablanca: is she running? - and if so why? The loss of her backpack containing her passport and money lead her to being given a similar but different backpack with another woman’s passport and wallet. The plot meanders through her travails in Casablanca. She cautiously takes on the other identity, meets up with ‘A Famous Actor’, assumes yet another identity, but the ‘why’ of what she is doing in Casablanca remains elusive. I’m not going to issue any spoiler alerts on this book so I will need to stop here. But I need to say that once I had finished The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty I couldn’t get it out of my mind and there were some pretty enthusiastic discussions in our house about the question of identity, how we see ourselves as individuals and how losing the means of identification can alter a person’s perceptions in an alien environment. - Marie
This is an easy book to recommend as it is successful is a number of different ways: firstly, it is engaging and enjoyable to read, well-paced and with the protagonist’s back-story gradually emerging in synchronicity with the plot; secondly, it is thought-provoking in its examination of the phenomenon of identity, something that belongs more to the world that surrounds an individual than to the individual to whom the identity is applied, something that brings its expectations and defining history, both of which are slippery enough to be shrugged off and exchanged if circumstances demand or allow; thirdly, it is written throughout in the second person, an affect that is elsewhere rarely successful but here is perfectly natural and compelling, making the reader entirely complicit in the elusions and deceptions of protagonist. - Thomas
Vendela Vida is the author of the acclaimed novels And Now You Can Go, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and The Lovers. She is a founding editor of The Believer magazine, and the editor of The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and children.