Tangerine

shopping-1  A page-turner, with traces of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hitchcock’s Gaslight, with two unreliable narrators, and with no “girl” in the title, Christine Mangan’s Tangerine has all the elements of a chilling thriller.  I was sorry to have it end.

Alice and Lucy meet as roommates at Bennington College in Vermont – Alice, the frail wealthy orphan with a trust fund and Lucy, the poor striving local girl on scholarship.  Although the plot proceeds predictably, with Lucy insinuating herself into Alice’s confidence, and Alice depending on Lucy to shore up her insecurities, the story makes a sharp turn when Alice finds true love with a Williams College boy in her senior year.

As the story shifts to Alice escaping to Tangier with her questionable husband, Lucy reappears in her life, and the mystery of the exotic surroundings adds to the intrigue.  Murders – more than one – dot the scenery, and Lucy evolves into a dangerous yet persistent terror.

Through flashback the reader understands Alice’s trauma filled life, with the death of her parents and the murder of her college love.  Referencing writer Paul Bowles, the novelist who wrote about Westerners who lose themselves in Morocco, Mangan gives Lucy and her shady Moroccan friend Youssef the motivation for  evil, ” You must read him {Bowles}, if you want to understand this place.” The “Tangerine” of the title refers to a native of the Moroccan city, Tangier, and the narrators do lose themselves there.

Poor Alice – despite her efforts – she seems doomed and outwitted at every turn.  This book is a movie waiting to happen.

After reading the book in one sitting, I decided to find Paul Bowles, and have ordered his The Sheltering Sky from the library.  The New York Review of Books offered a useful resource for his life and writings in Tangier – The Hypnotic Clamor of Morocco.

Related ReviewNew York Times: Trusting in the Sheltering Sky

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

9780062110916_p0_v2_s192x300Have you ever dreamed of driving off into the sunset, changing your name, and disappearing?  In Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, a theft in Morocco triggers a series of identity swaps for an American tourist.

Using the mysterious and exotic setting of Casablanca and focusing on all travelers’ paranoia of losing valuables (Rick Steves’ hidden security pouch sells well), Vida slyly manipulates the story line, drawing the reader into seemingly innocuous events.  The thirty-something woman (we never do know her real name) morphs from a harried Florida traveler on an economy trip to staying at a posh hotel as Sabine Alyse, when the local police replace her stolen backpack with someone else’s.  Her adventure continues when she is tapped to be a stand-in for a famous American movie star who is filming at the location.  A final bus trip out-of-town reveals her true identity when fellow Floridians on holiday recognize her – the past is hard to escape.

The reason for her trip remains unclear until the end, when her dark secrets are revealed.  I didn’t see it coming, and I won’t spoil it for you, but the reasons for her erratic behavior are not jet lag.

Related articles

The Time In Between

Although Maris Duenas’s the Time In Between begins with slow-flowing mellifluous descriptions of life in Madrid in the 193os, the story morphs into the adventures of a young girl during the Spanish Civil War.   The changes in the heroine’s life evolve quickly and often over the 600 page saga.

Ready to marry a staid civil servant, Sira is seduced by a typewriter salesman/scam artist, and runs away from the impending war and her mother to live with him in Morocco. Before she leaves, her wealthy father gives her jewels and money as compensation for having deserted her unwed mother. Her new-found fortune dissipates under the control of her lover, who disappears with her inheritance, just as she finds she is pregnant and the war closes the Strait.  Abandoned and with no possibility of returning home, Sira is rescued by a police officer, and settles into a makeshift arrangement in a boarding house.

After a mad chase through the streets with guns strapped to her legs and hidden under a haik, Sira has the money to start her own business as a seamstress.  The more successful she is, the better her contacts. Her dressmaking inadvertently connects her to Generalissimo Franco, and eventually Britain’s M-16 espionage team.  The British recruit her and send her back to Madrid to sew for the wives of high-ranking Nazis.  As her life as a beautiful undercover spy develops, the politics get scarier, and her escapades more thrilling.

Translated from Spanish, The Time in Between, has an easy flow with extravagant descriptions of food and fashion punctuating the action.  Although the historical context is informative, Duenas uses the intrigue to promote romance as the main focus in her story –  with the suave villains and the handsome Marcos, who keeps reentering her life – climaxing in a daring train episode.

Sira’s experiences will remind you of the Perils of Pauline – the beautiful heroine survives turmoil again and again, only to emerge victorious.  At times, you may wonder why you are plowing through all those pages, but, the action is constant, and the descriptive interludes will lull you into imagining that you are somewhere else.