Layover by Lisa Zeidner: An episode of madness

Cover imageFirst published in 1999, Lisa Zeidner’s Layover may well be appearing on the big screen starring Penelope Cruz as Claire, its main protagonist, although when that might be seems a little hazy which means we’re spared one of those off-putting film tie-in jackets. It’s been reissued in the UK by the English language imprint of Pushkin Press who seem as keen on seeking out interesting lesser known novels as their translated fiction arm. Zeidner’s fiction explores mental illness and grief through a middle-aged woman who has lost her son and, briefly, her bearings.

Claire is a medical rep, travelling across the States and spending much of her time in hotel rooms. A few years ago she and her husband lost their young son Evan. Both of them has dealt, or failed to deal, with their grief in different ways but Claire is convinced she’s over the worst of it until the discovery of Ken’s affair sends her careening into an episode which sees her scamming hotels, avoiding her work appointments, sleeping with other men and succumbing to an insatiable need for sleep. Her Hitchcockian dreams are filled with images of Cary Grant in a white coat, her husband’s lover harangues her over the phone and her credit card’s been stopped. Claire knows this can’t go on but she’s not quite sure how to stop it.

Given that Zeidner’s novel was published nearly twenty years ago it feels surprisingly fresh. Claire narrates her own story in a sardonic voice which becomes increasingly brittle as her crisis bites. She’s an unreliable narrator who scatters small details of Evan’s death in amongst recollections and reflections about her marriage. She’s donned an armour against her grief, indulging in fantasies to avoid the issue with people she meets but now finds herself revealing the truth, much to their discomfiture. Her tone is sharp and funny, another disguise to cover her grief, but by the end of the novel some kind of acceptance has been reached. Witty and accomplished, Layover is an impressive piece of fiction. Zeidner’s skill at evoking both the claustrophobia of grief and the fences we build around it is admirable. Hard to see how  her novel will translate to screen – so much of it is spent in Claire’s head – but let’s hope it’s in the hands of an indie company rather than at risk from Hollywood blandification.

6 thoughts on “Layover by Lisa Zeidner: An episode of madness

  1. JacquiWine

    I’m interested to hear that a film may well be in the works. It sounds like a juicy part for Penelope Cruz, an actress with the ability to bring a lot of bite to a role. I loved her in Volver a few years ago.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      She’s a superb actor isn’t she. It’s difficult to nail down exactly what’s happening with the proposed film, Jacqui, but I think if anyone can carry off the role of Claire on screen it would be someone with Cruz’s maturity.

      Reply
  2. madamebibilophile

    The premise of this doesn’t really appeal but the wit does, and I always trust both you and Pushkin Press! Penelope Cruz usually makes interesting choices so fingers crossed for a decent adaptation.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It will be interesting to see how they go about it, Claire, if it comes off. It won’t work at all if the screenwriter makes compromises in portraying Claire’s character.

      Reply

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