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Told with vibrant, lush detail and a wicked sense of humor, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty is part literary mystery, part psychological thriller - an unforgettable novel that explores free will, power, and a woman's right to choose not her past, perhaps not her present, but certainly her future. This is Vendela Vida's most assured and ambitious novel yet.
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By Joe Kraus on 01-22-16
Interesting Experiment, Questionable Results
Any additional comments?
This novel is an intriguing experiment: it tells the story of a woman who is losing her identity through a series of misunderstandings, and it does so in the second person. We get addressed in the person of the protagonist, and the idea of that seems powerful and effective.
Unfortunately, I found the experiment largely failed . The second-person gambit begins to feel old very quickly, especially as it sets the scene too-long in the making of her having her passport and other belongings stolen in Casablanca. The book seems to hold its conceit out for us to admire, and it does so at the expense of moving things along more quickly from the start.
Later, things do move somewhat more quickly, but by then we’ve reached what seem the limits of this second-person narration. The constant “you” implies an intimacy. It feels as if we are talking with the narrator in a frank and open way. Except the novel turns perpetually on new revelations: remember you have a sister; remember you carried her daughter as a surrogate mother; remember you aren’t sure you can trust your husband any longer. The result is that we are constantly reminded we don’t know this person. The novel moves forward as much be “our” remembering things we didn’t know we’d forgotten as by events. And those events are often driven by “our” decisions, decisions we can’t fully understand.
The novel does have nice ambition. Beyond the technical experiment, it creates an eerie cast of doubles: she is a twin sister; she looks enough like at least two other women to be mistaken for them; she becomes a professional stand-in; and she goes through situations that uncomfortably mirror one another. It also puts forward the outlines of a provocative look at how women in particular are made to assume different identities in different contexts.
Such ambition never quite comes to a point, though, and those ideas mostly hover around the story rather than assert themselves in it. The novel moves quickly, but it never quite seems to get where it’s going.
You have gotten to the end of it, and, sighing with some disappointment, you put it back on the shelf.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By KP on 07-17-15
The name, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty,
comes from a Rumi poem which basically deals with becoming something else… moving beyond “the sad edge of surf” to the “sound of no shore” – moving beyond earthly sorrows and into…. something else. That is what the book is about: change.
"The Diver’s Clothes Lying Empty"
"You are sitting here with us,
but you are also out walking in a field at dawn.
You are yourself the animal we hunt
when you come with us on the hunt.
You are in your body
like a plant is solid in the ground,
yet you are wind.
You are the diver’s clothes
lying empty on the beach.
You are the fish.
In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.
Your hidden self is blood in those,
those veins that are lute strings
that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf
but the sound of no shore."
Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
And the cover art refers, also, to becoming something else, referring to a passage at the very end of the book: “ You see an intricate keyhole-shaped arch that leads into the ruins of the royal palace. …You watch as one woman enters through the arch, and another exits.” More references to becoming someone or something else, since the main character begins as one woman and ends as another.
I loved how the author has one character discuss the theory of “radical evolution,” which is basically evolution forced by a change in circumstance, and how it then ends up applying to the woman in the story, and how it could apply to any of us. Again, change is the main idea here.
Also having to do with the idea of change is the way clothing plays a part in the main character’s identity. The author challenges the reader to think about how clothing defines us.
I found myself thinking of the main character in The Woman Upstairs. Both that woman and the protagonist in this book feel invisible, and both are devoted to people who mis-use them. In the same way as in The Woman Upstairs, people online are criticizing the protagonist for her poor choices. I find that idea misguided, since the whole point is not the quality of her choices, but how she changes as the book progresses. I loved the protagonist, in spite of her choices. The beauty of the book is how Vida makes those choices believable to the reader. Even if I wouldn’t make those choices, the reader becomes convinced that the woman in this book would - even when they are poor choices.
I did guess what is revealed at the very end: what the protagonist’s sister had done to her back home in her past life. But I did NOT guess the very end in Morocco. I WAS dying to find out! The author did a great job of building suspense. I actually thought MAYBE the protagonist would end up with a certain businessman, BUT that would have been way too sappy and overly romantic and wouldn’t fit with the idea of growth and change, so I’m actually glad it didn’t happen that way.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful