The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

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.

17 responses

    • Thank you 🙂

      I read a blog review of this book ages ago (can’t remember where…) which is why I happen to have it. I thought it was clever and original but a quick glance at Goodreads suggests others found it otherwise.

  1. A story in the second person is often accusatory, directed by the protagonist at an unseen third (second?) party. In this case the YOU seems to be directed at the protagonist herself. I can see, theoretically anyway, how it might work. And you say it does.

    • You’re right Bill – I think I did read a book years ago in the second person that was about a stalker.
      This book may have worked just as well written another way but suffice to say that the second person didn’t annoy me in the way I expected.

  2. I read this some time ago and also thought the ‘you’ would drive me round the bend but then found myself getting used to it. Very funny, at times, too. It brought to mind Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky which she mentions at some point.

  3. I loved this book and am so glad to finally find someone else who read and enjoyed it. You’re exactly right about the second person- so difficult to do well, but she does.

    I agree about the ending. I can see some people dismissing it, but I thought it was intriguing. Who hasn’t thought about shedding their identity at one point or another?

    • Perhaps I spotted it first on your blog? (I’m not sure how I had it in my TBR stack). Over on Goodreads, some people were brutal about the ending but I’m not sure were else she could have taken it…

  4. This sounds good. I like books that are slightly off centre, or have something lurking at the edges, while appearing surface normal. Perhaps it’s an Arabic/North African/Middle Eastern thing. The Dove’s Necklace (set in Mecca) does the off centre thing very well, a sense of not being in the place you think you are. Labyrinthine springs to mind. An unsettling but good weird. I’m off to look for this now.

  5. Pingback: Reading Challenges 2017 | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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