Despite the fact that The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida is written in the second-person (because truly, YOU would think YOU would want to put hot pokers in YOUR eyes reading so many YOUS), this slip of a novel hooks YOU from the outset.
You’re still wet from the rain. You should have brought an umbrella. A psychiatrist friend of yours once told you that a telltale sign of a mentally unstable person is she’s never dressed appropriately for the weather.
An unnamed woman travels to Morocco – her reasons are unclear. Checking-in at her hotel, she is robbed of her passport and all identification. The crime is haphazardly investigated by the police and it soon becomes clear that the woman will never see her possessions again. Stripped of her identity, she feels both burdened by the crime and liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone at all. What unfolds is an odd tale of changing names and assuming roles.
Vida creates strangely menacing situations (which reminded me of Levy’s Hot Milk) – each scene is a little off, something not-quite-right lurking at the edge (in the tradition of Lewis Carroll). The result is mesmerizing.
At nine in the morning the same driver comes to meet you in the lobby. Yesterday he wore a plaid shirt and white sneakers but today he’s wearing plaid sneakers and a white shirt.
Although some of the character’s decisions are far-fetched (or simply plain stupid), the use of the second-person cleverly makes you implicit in the story and you’re quickly carried along in the dusty Moroccan heat, lost in the labyrinth of Casablancan streets, and suspicious of every person that crosses your path.
The strange story and even stranger story-telling had me turning the pages. There’s a precision to Vida’s words which left me feeling nervy.
This is the way of air travel: fellow passengers applaud because they didn’t die, and then they cut in front of you so they can exit four seconds earlier.
The sadness of being unuseful, which is a particular type of sadness, begins to vine through your body.
Vida slowly reveals the woman’s plight and again, while odd and a little heavy-handed, it provided a layered perspective on the meaning of identity and the roles we play for particular people. Some readers will brush off the conclusion as over-the-top but on reflection, I thought it was interesting and thought-provoking.
3.5/5 Weird (good weird).
Our unnamed character keeps ordering omelettes via room service. Personally, I love a spinach omelette and will often make one if I have a bit of spare time in the morning.