Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lulu In Marrakech by Diane Johnson

A naïve young CIA agent tries to make sense of Marrakech, and by extension, the Islamic world

Something went terribly awry in this novel. In Diane Johnson's other beautifully written books, her trademarks have always been tight classical plotting, a ditzy American heroine, trenchant social observations and a submerged outrage at individual and societal obtuseness. In many of her novels, as well, there is an underlying fascination or fear of the Other. But something went wrong in the execution of Lulu in Marrakech. The plotting is clumpy, with clues piling up suddenly, the ditziness of the heroine falls below a reasonableness standard as no government agency would ever employ her, especially as a spy, and finally her cover story of a love affair that actually is a love affair creates too little conflict. Finally, the fascination with the Other, in this case, Muslims, crosses the line into offensiveness.

Lulu Sawyer, the assumed name of the young California CIA agent, travels to Marrakech, to resume her relationship with Brit Ian Drumm. She lives with him in his compound and gathers information on terrorist funding. She also spies on Ian, but seems to be genuinely in love with the man. The weeks pass and Lulu learns more about the expatriate community.  She also works to help a French girl, Suma, who is in danger of being killed by her brother for the dishonorable crime of losing her virginity. In addition, Ian's neighbors, the good looking Saudis, Gazi and Khaled, are much closer to Ian than Lulu originally assumed. These plot elements gather together, but not in a climatic fashion.

In short order, Lulu stops a suicide bomber, and assists in a CIA rendition. The tone, as is typical in a Diane Johnson novel, is zany, but a huge problem is that a 14 year old suicide bomber is not zany and a man choking to death on his own vomit is not zany. The tone is too muddled. I think we as readers are too close to 9/11.

Here's what I liked. It was consistently absorbing, and I learned a little about Moroccan culture.


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