Published by Ecco
Publication date: June 2nd 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary, Mystery
Plenty of people go on vacation to lose themselves but probably not in the way of the narrator in Vendela Vida’s novel The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. She lands in Morocco and midway through the check-in process at her hotel realizes her backpack has been stolen, almost out of her hands. It contains every piece of ID she has, her wallet, new camera and her laptop. Despite the willingness of everyone to help and the fact that the thief is shown on the security cameras she is left stranded at the Casablanca police station. Until, that is, the police chief presents her with a backpack and a passport, neither of which is hers, but which he intimates she should take because it is all she will get. And so she does.
From a beginning that is every traveler’s nightmare Vida constructs a story that is both believable and wild in its details. The narrator is taking this vacation to get over a personal situation that is extreme in its levels of betrayal and yet, despite the sympathy this engenders she remains a character almost impossible to pin down. She makes the decision to accept another woman’s identity, to later shed that skin and then embark on a third made-up persona. Is she an innocent victim or is she as complicit in her misfortune as she believes the authorities and even the sales clerk who sold her the backpack to be? Questions like these are enhanced by her thoughts early on when things begin to go wrong
You have been in situations like these before and you feel this tranquility, the green-blue of an ocean, wash over you.
These small enigmatic sentences contribute to the feeling of unease Vida brilliantly uses throughout The Diver’s Clothes. By writing the novel in the second person the narrator is never named but only referred to as ‘you’ thereby superimposing her story onto you, the reader. This causes polarizing feelings of intimacy and remove, sympathy and suspicion, belief and incredulity. Each time the maze of events threatens to come to a dead-end the narrator shifts shape, drops another piece of her previous identity and past and emerges lighter and brighter onto a wider vista. That Vida also imbues her with a sense of humor and a poignant self-awareness means that even with no set name she is a strong presence. In this way, the title The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is a perfect summation of the novel because she is sloughing off all her externally defining layers as unnecessary and moving on. Who she is now and will be is fluid and yet to be determined but through sheer force of will she has managed to move from a space of survival to one of adventure. How wonderful…