Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

A visitor to Morocco loses her identity

Our nameless narrator (one of twins) is, on her very first day in Casablanca, the victim of a particularly skillful pickpocket, losing her passport, credit card and money.  (First thing to do in Casablanca is to get out of Casablanca.)  She has no way to prove who she is. After several bumbling attempts at assistance, the intimidating police chief hands her another woman’s backpack, insisting that the case has been solved. The narrator uses the other woman’s credit card to rent a luxury hotel room. She turns to the US embassy, but soon becomes convinced the US Embassy is about to discover all her stupid dishonesties.  At her wit’s end, it luckily turns out she is an exact body double for the famous actress shooting a movie in Casablanca and our narrator gets a paying job.  But her body double acting is so good, on screen and off , that the famous movie star gets enraged. Just in the nick of time, and with the help of another astonishing coincidence, our narrator escapes being found out yet once again. In addition, at the end, the big secret from back home is perfectly detonated.

I really enjoyed this novel, although for most readers, this may be an esoteric pleasure, an extended joke, a meditation on identity. Critical bundles get stolen, seemingly nice doubles stab the heroine in the back.  There are also a lot of costume changes. The pleasure comes in the narrator’s increasing paranoia, her off the chart neuroticism and overall ineffectiveness. I kept reassuring myself: This could never happen, could it?

The book was perfectly crafted; the narrator never wears out her welcome in any particular role. This is one of the few novels I have read recently where the intensity properly increased as the story went on, and the “secret” was opportunely presented. The narrator doesn’t really go to all that much trouble to retrieve her identity, because if, at any point, she ever did the logical thing, the story would end. Finally, the book was hilarious – there definitely is a Keystone Kops thing going on.

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