The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
I bought this last weekend totally on whim. I had never heard of it or Vendela Vida (great name). I wasn’t particularly attracted to the cover. I really don’t know why I picked it up. I guess I was attracted to the notion of a character losing her passport in Casablanca and deciding to become someone else. (I know I wasn’t drawn to the second-person singular narration, but eventually I got over that.)
What did eventually pull me in was how perfectly Vida captured the lead up and immediate aftermath of the theft of the unnamed narrator’s backpack with every important bit of paper, identity, and money in it. I could feel the panic rising in me as she tried in vain to get her belongings back. (Maybe the second-person singular “You” do this and feel that set-up helps us feel more in her shoes.) The stuff of my nightmares, I kind of reveled in her descent into chaos and despair–both of which aren’t fully appreciated by those around her. How many times have you been in a tough spot and found yourself upset that the world continues despite your troubles and that most people–even the nice ones–do just enough to assure themselves that they have done as much as could be reasonably expected. Which is to say, not enough.
Once I knew she was in for a crap-storm of trouble I was fascinated to see where it would take her. An act of survival puts her on the wrong side of the law resulting in the inability to resolve her situation with the help of the U.S. Embassy. Then she lucks into a situation that seems to solve her problem at least in the short term, but then she is back in trouble, and eventually…well that’s left up to the reader to decide.
Against this travel nightmare backdrop we find our heroine’s current situation might be preferable to the one she left behind in Florida. Part of her home situation I guessed early on. Its eventual unveiling in the story made it seem a little more one dimensional than the character’s present predicament, but it certainly attested to motive and state of mind.
Not a perfect book, but kind of a thrilling, quick read. Plenty left to think about. Plenty to worry about. Plenty to be happy it wasn’t you about. There is a tiny part of me that is reminded, at least superficially, of The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark. Single woman, foreign adventure, caution and good sense thrown to the wind, something dark in the background. But don’t read too much into that I guess.
Seeing the cover picture I did wonder what had promoted yiu to get this. It didn’t seem like your usual,fare. Serendipity works sometimes though? Fortunately I haven’t been in such a dire situation but can relate a bit because this year I travelled to India and 20 minutes before landing discovered I had left my wallet at Heathrow. So I had no credit cards and no cash other than £1 coin at the bottom of my rucksack. Even in India that gets you nowhere. Frantic calls to work colleagues got me through 24 hours until I could get money wired but it was a frightening prospect.
Your experience sounds awful. But you know what would have been worse? Realizing 20 minutes into your flight that you wallet was missing. You know how long that flight would have felt?
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“Single woman, foreign adventure, caution and good sense thrown to the wind, something dark in the background.”
I wonder if you’ve ever read any of Mary Stewart’s suspense novels from the 1950s and 60s, since that sentence perfectly describes many of them. I inherited a love of her books from my mother, and still re-read certain novels every few years (This Rough Magic, Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, etc). I’ve also come to recognize and admire their feminist qualities – woman rescues self and attendant men and/or children from dangerous people and situations – more and more with each re-read. But that sounds dry, and her writing is certainly not. She is a fantastic storyteller.
Glad you had a good vacation in Maine!
That’s a good recommendation as I see her books quite frequently when I am out and about.
The three I mentioned are my favorites of hers and I would add The Ivy Tree and Airs Above the Ground to that list. Others too, come to think of it. However I haven’t read her Arthurian books, so can’t say one way or the other about those.
Your summary of the novel doesn’t make it sound like the author made much use of the Rumi poem from which the novel title comes, but then Rumi seems to be almost everything to everyone (which I think is probably a good thing):
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.
It does play a role in the book, but to your point perhaps not as clearly as it could.