Tag Archives: The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

Six Degrees of Separation – From Fleishman is in Trouble to Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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This month we’re starting with Fleishman is in Trouble which many in my neck of the Twitter woods were raving about last year. I’ve yet to read it but the blurb tells me it’s about a man looking forward to his new-found freedom whose ex-wife disappears.

Which reminded me of Katie Kitamura’s unnamed narrator in A Separation called in by her ex-partner’s parents to help find their son who has disappeared while on holiday in Greece.

Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk sees Sofia, also on an enforced holiday, this time in Spain where her mother is seeking help from the mysterious Dr Gomez for an illness which defies diagnosis.

A holiday turns sour then becomes an adventure for Vendela Vida’s protagonist in The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty when she’s mistakenly handed someone else’s identical backpack.

Vida’s novel is narrated in the second person which took some getting used to for me but I enjoyed it very much once I was accustomed to it. The same goes for TaraShea Nesbitt’s The Wives of Los Alamos which is narrated in the first person plural. It’s an ambitious impressive debut about the wives of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb.

Much more conventional in style, Joseph Kanon’s thoroughly enjoyable thriller, Los Alamos, is set during the same period and features an intelligence officer who falls in love with one of the scientist’s wives.

Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Lives begins with the first mushroom cloud in the New Mexican desert which sees the scientists responsible catapulted into 2003 where they try to adjust to a very different America. I loved this funny, original novel.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a bestselling satire about modern marriage to a set of time-traveling scientists. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

Paperbacks to Look Out For in July 2016

Cover imageI’ll start July’s paperback selection with my favourite of the three I’ve already read. Set in Morocco, Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty takes us on a nail-biting journey wondering what our resourceful protagonist will come up with next. Exhausted after her long sleepless flight and preoccupied by problems at home, she finds herself in a Kafkaesque nightmare with no ID, credit cards cancelled and no cash after her backpack is snatched. When, after a fretful night, the chief of police hands her a black backpack she accepts it knowing that it’s not hers, nor is the passport or the credit cards she finds in it, but seeing a way out of her predicament. What follows is a somewhat improbable but thoroughly entertaining sequence of events as our nameless protagonist slides deeper and deeper into a quagmire of lies.

Vida’s writing was new to me but I’ve been reading Andrew Miller’s novels since the publication of his excellent debut, Ingenious Pain. He’s never quite matched that for me but it hasn’t stopped me looking forward to whatever he comes up with next. The Crossing opens with a young man and woman repairing a boat, both members of their university sailing club. They’re not a couple but Tim has it in the back of his mind that he’ll sleep with Maud before too long. Suddenly, Maud flips off the boat and lands on her head – for one long moment it seems she’s dead – then she gets up and walks away. Tim somehow feels responsible following her home and later conceiving a passion for her. Written in short, crisp sentences from which the occasional startlingly sharp image leaps out, The Crossing feels very different from any of Miller’s previous novels. It had me gripped throughout but left me puzzled.Cover image

Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, is also about a marriage but not just any old run-of-the-mill, everyday sort of marriage: Lotto and Mathilde are a shiny beacon of the perfect relationship but as we all know that can’t be true. The novel’s two-part structure – first the Fates then the Furies – sets us up for dramatic revelations, presenting an apparently idyllic relationship seen through both parties’ very different eyes. It’s stuffed full of little side stories, some of which go nowhere, some of which are picked up again and sewn neatly in. Groff’s baggy, extravagant, almost baroque writing is the antithesis of the spare elegance I so admire in the likes of Colm Tóibin, Kent Haruf and John McGahern yet there’s something about it that sucks me in. Not an unalloyed joy – it’s far too long – but it’s an absorbing, intriguing novel.

Jonathan Galassi’s Muse looks irresistible: its setting, subject and jacket tick all the boxes for me. Paul Dukach is in line to take over one of the last independent publishing houses in New York and is being shown the ropes, from navigating the choppy waters of the Frankfurt book fair to the wooing of authors renowned for their delicate egos. Paul has become obsessed with Ida Perkins, a star of literary New York, whose lover and longtime publisher is Paul’s boss’s biggest rival. ‘Enriched by juicy details only a quintessential insider could know, written with both satiric sharpness and sensitivity, Muse is a love letter to the people who write, sell – and, above all, read – the books that shape our lives’ says the publisher. See what I mean by irresistible…

Cover imageEnding on a very different note, Walter Kempowski’s All for Nothing takes us to rural East Prussia in January 1945 where the wealthy von Globigs have hidden themselves away from the horrors taking place on their doorstep. When they take in a stranger it seems that they will finally have to face the consequences of the war. ‘Profoundly evocative of the period, sympathetic yet painfully honest about the motivations of its characters, All for Nothing is a devastating portrait of the complicities and denials of the German people as the Third Reich comes to an end’ says the publisher. The novel is translated by Anthea Bell which makes it well worth a look for me.

That’s it for July. As ever, if you’d like to know more a click on a title will take you to my review for the novels I’ve read and to a more detailed synopsis for the ones I haven’t. if you’d like to catch up with the hardback selections they’re here and here.

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida: A smart, funny tale of identity and adventure

Cover imageI noticed The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty being talked about recently on Twitter by someone whose taste I admire. The title seemed familiar and I wish I could tell you that it was because it’s from one of Rumi’s poems – revealed half-way through the novel – but I have to admit it was already on my ‘to be reviewed’ shelves. Anyway, @elizabethmoya was quite right. Set in Morocco, Vendela Vida’s compelling novel takes us on a nail-biting journey wondering what our resourceful protagonist will come up with next and keeping us thoroughly entertained along the way.

As soon as she spots that her anonymous black backpack has been snatched, our nameless protagonist knows she should have heeded her guidebook: ‘the first thing you should do upon arrival in Casablanca is get out of Casablanca’. Exhausted after her long sleepless flight and preoccupied by problems at home, she finds herself in a Kafkaesque nightmare with no ID, credit cards cancelled and no cash. When, after a fretful night, the chief of police hands her a black backpack she accepts it knowing that it’s not hers, nor is the passport or the credit cards she finds in it, but seeing a way out of her predicament. She takes herself off to an up-market hotel, noticing a film crew outside and a ‘famous American actress’. So starts an adventure that will see her standing in for the actress, meeting Patti Smith, dining with a rich Russian businessman and coming slap-bang up against what is fast becoming her old life, leaving a trail of names, lies and half-truths in her wake.

Just as I was remembering The Sheltering Sky with its altogether darker story of an American whose passport goes missing in North Africa, a cab-driver asks our protagonist if she’s heard of Paul Bowles but Vida’s tale is far from brooding. Told in the second person which takes a little getting used to, it’s often very funny – sometimes dryly so, sometimes almost farcical. Our protagonist’s brush with stardom is particularly nicely handled with some sharp fun poked at celebrity. Small details of her past leak into the narrative until all is revealed towards the end: the last piece of the jigsaw wasn’t a surprise but it’s well done. Vida makes her readers squirm as our protagonist slides deeper and deeper into a quagmire of lies, expecting her to be found out at every turn. If some of her adventures seem a little improbable they’re so well drawn that I forgave Vida. Altogether a thoroughly entertaining read and I see there’s a backlist to explore.