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Diver's Clothes Lie Empty Paperback – March 15, 2016
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“[Vendela Vida’s] finest book...With its echoes of Hitchcock and Highsmith, this novel is full of darting pleasures.” (New York Times)
“A brilliant inquiry into the eternal mysteries of being… Told cinematically in one long, bewitching take, Vida’s astutely insightful, keenly suspenseful, surreptitiously metaphysical novel demands to be read in a breath-held trance and then plunged into again.” (Booklist (starred review))
“Vendela Vida’s work is utterly compelling, surprising, economical, lush, beautifully written. Reading her inspires me, and reminds me of how powerful the novel can be - how addictive and vital - and of how rarely a writer as precise, artful, and passionate as her comes along.” (George Saunders)
“Like Bowles’ despairing, existential “The Sheltering Sky,” Vida’s novel penetrates the psyche of an American traveler when confronted with an alien culture and landscape…. [A]n emotionally precise and absorbing meditation on how grief can divest us of our most fundamental sense of self.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Every woman writing literary thrillers gets compared to Patricia Highsmith once if she’s lucky, but this is one of the few times it’s felt to me like a hopeful comparison. After this, I’ll read anything Vida writes.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Vendela Vida has written a truly original novel, a work of art that shines with Buñuelian play and cruelty. The situation is discomfiting and addictive. You will be driven to read this novel compulsively, and then you will have the same strange sly smile that I do, now.” (Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers)
“Part glamorous travelogue, part slow-burn mystery, this full-bodied tale of a runaway is at once formally inventive and heartbreakingly familiar. (It’s also insanely funny.)” (Lena Dunham)
“Smart, thoroughly engrossing, funny, and even a bit disturbing. … Part mystery/thriller and part absurdist/postmodern novel with a feminist slant, it is simultaneously funny and serious.” (New York Journal of Books)
“You will tear through Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, this wry, edgy, philosophical thriller, this love child of Albert Camus and Patricia Highsmith, this sly satire of Hollywood, this entertaining journey through the vast desert of identity and regret.” (Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins )
“Unequivocally a thriller, but more movingly, a meditation on identity.” (Vanity Fair)
“The novel packs a wallop, taking the themes of Camus and Kierkegaard and transplanting them into a story with the pace and intrigue of a page-turner… A speedy and suspenseful fish-out-of-water tale with a slyly philosophical bent.” (Kirkus)
“The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is both a travel cautionary tale and a fantasy about the infinite possibility that travel offers.” (NPR's Fresh Air)
“Second-person narration is tough to pull off - but when a writer is as skilled as Vendela Vida, that experimental form results in a compelling interactive experience. What follows is a wild journey through Morocco, and an interesting take on the surreal experience of literally losing your identity.” (Bustle)
“A chilling tale about the gradual loss of identity-a novel of doubles, invisibility and lies, poised somewhere between a fever-dream and a suspenseful thriller . . .Vendela Vida perfectly captures what it feels like to be unreal, especially to oneself, and grasping at roles in order to survive.” (Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be? )
“A tense, often nerve-wracking read, the anxiety heightened by the fact that it all comes to the reader as a direct address, in the second person. An artful, driving exploration of identity.” (Portland Monthly)
“A riveting read about the ups, downs, and self-discovery of travel.” (Los Angeles Times)
“This new volume is compelling in its underlying mystery and its call for readers to explore their individual pasts and the opportunities they can take in pursuit of a fulfilling future. It’s never too late, the novel suggests, to begin anew. Vida’s prose is spare and suspenseful, moving the reader quickly toward the denouement. It’s a novel ripe for the summer season-a book you can read on your porch or at the beach, leaving your old self, like the diver’s clothes, behind.” (Seattle Times)
“Tremendously fulfilling.” (Maclean's)
“Vida’s prose is spare and suspenseful, moving the reader quickly toward the denouement. It’s a novel ripe for the summer season-a book you can read on your porch or at the beach, leaving your old self, like the diver’s clothes, behind.” (Electric Literature)
“[Diver’s Clothes] begins in a realist mode but sheds this skin as it goes, becoming in its second half a gently postmodern, surrealist philosophical novel on the protean nature of personal identity. That it manages to do this gracefully and in the span of 212 pages is remarkable.” (BookForum)
“[The main character’s] transformation from victim into liberated shadow is as exhilarating and unsettling as Vida’s novel itself-a literary tour de force in the skin of a thriller.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
From the Back Cover
From the acclaimed author of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name comes a taut, spellbinding literary thriller that probes the essence and malleability of identity
In Vendela Vida’s taut and mesmerizing novel of ideas, a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. While checking into her hotel, the woman is robbed of her wallet and passport—all of her money and identification. Stripped of her identity, she feels burdened by the crime yet strangely liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone she wants to be.
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.
“Part glamorous travelogue, part slow-burn mystery, this full-bodied tale of a runaway is at once formally inventive and heartbreakingly familiar. (It’s also insanely funny.)”—Lena Dunham
“[Vida’s] finest book....With its echoes of Hitchcock and Highsmith, this novel is full of darting pleasures.”—New York Times--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
By sheer coincidence, this novel and the previous one I reviewed, HUNTERS IN THE DARK by Lawrence Osborne, have virtually the same set-up. A traveler arrives alone in a third-world country. Within hours, their money, passport, and other identifying articles have been stolen. In trying to find a way out of the difficulty, the protagonists slip inadvertently into identities not their own. But there the similarities cease. Where Osborne was slow, portentous, and heavily atmospheric, Vida, writing at half the length, is both light on her feet and deliciously intimate. Until a couple of coincidences stretch credulity a bit at the end, I was totally captivated by her heroine and on tenterhooks about her situation.
Which is strange, because she doesn't even have a name. Four or five assumed ones, depending on circumstances, but she never reveals her own. The novel is written entirely in the second person singular: "When you find your seat you glance at the businessman sitting next to you and decide he's almost handsome.…" It is as personal a voice as the first person singular, but curiously more intimate, as though saying "You know who you are; other people do not need to." Not that she does fully know who she is any more. She is flying to Casablanca to flee a divorce and the ruins of her marriage. When her backpack is stolen, she is mysteriously given the bag of someone else, and uses that person's identity for a while. Then she lucks into a job as stand-in for a famous American actress filming in Morocco, whom she happens to resemble. She takes this under yet another name, and the job involves standing in for someone else, acting yet another role -- so three more borrowed personae. But behind them all, she discovers new strengths, and we learn more about her too.
Although small and refreshingly unpretentious, this was clearly a five-star book for me. Though I did wish it were half as long again. I can accept that the vague air of mystery, even conspiracy, with which it started is never resolved; the novel itself avoids resolution. But the work on the film takes up such a large part of the book, that when Vida needs to move the story on from there, it feels rushed and depends on one of those outrageous coincidences (though they do happen) of running into someone from your own small town halfway across the world. But such is the author's skill that, instead of having this return the character back to her old humdrum self, it sets off a new chain of alternative identities, each of which we assume will bring her closer to a new truer self:
"Others in the van are now waiting for your name too. For a moment you consider giving them your real name, but you're not ready. So you think of beautiful names -- Verity, Maya, Honorée. No, no. You'll save those for when you have a daughter of your own. For now, you look into the sun and you smile.…"
Almost immediately “you” have your backpack stolen, along with your passport, money, camera and apparently your sanity, since you then go on to do some rather insane things. Adventures and misadventures ensue in one long, continuous take. It’s a quick read, partly due to the fine writing style and partly because it’s almost impossible to put down since the plot, if one can call it that, consists almost entirely of crises on the brink of being resolved. I can’t give it five stars, but it kept me thoroughly entertained from beginning to end.
The idea of discovering your identity was interesting. The narrator is a twin, and really was going through an identity crisis during the story. In fact, we never actually learn her true name, just different identities she tries on for herself. The concept was really unique, and could have been a great read, but personally I didn't think it ever really came through.