Published by HarperCollins on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary
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This bizarre little novel is the official selection of the Powell’s Indiespensable box for July 2015. The main character escapes to Morocco, after she experiences a painful event in her private life. While she is checking into a Moroccan hotel, her backpack, which contains all of her identifying information, is stolen. There is some sort of mix-up at the police station and she ends up in possession of another woman’s passport and credit cards. The entire episode upsets her, but she also finds it liberating to be someone else for a little bit. She does not correct the mistake immediately and her guilt and worry about being caught causes her View Spoiler »to assume even more identities. « Hide Spoiler What is this woman running from? How long can she keep up the charade and elude her true self?
“There are these periods in evolution when species are in stasis because there’s no need for change. But then, usually because of a change in their environment they have to adapt rapidly. That’s how new species come about.” (Bodyguard with red hair)
There were two unique characteristics I noticed right away. Firstly, it is written in second person narration, meaning you assume the place of the main character. A random paragraph:
Inside the business center, you place the document the police chief gave you in the Xerox machine and make one copy to test it before making more. The paper that comes out is blank; you didn’t place the original facedown. You take the blank piece of paper that the copier slides out of the machine (not unlike the way money slides out of an ATM, you can’t help noticing) and fold it and place it in the pocket of your pleated skirt. You want to hide your mistake from…whom? You start over. You place the police document facedown on the machine, which emits a strange, stovelike smell.
I picked one of the least riveting passages on purpose, because not all of “your” actions are what typically would be considered entertaining! For me, it invoked a sense of dread about what “my” next action would be. When I started reading and saw “you” peppered throughout every single page, I thought there was no way I was going to be able to finish this book! It was really uncomfortable at first, but the story was compelling enough that I quickly assumed the identity of the main character. You can really feel her exhaustion and desperation, especially in the beginning.
Secondly, there are just section breaks rather than chapters. It reads like a really long short story. It actually might have worked even better as a short story. The lack of chapters really lent itself to compulsive reading.
Instead: There’s a reason that for most of your life you’ve run and swam. There’s a reason why you finally arrived at diving as your competitive sport. With diving your face was virtually unseen. It was all about the shape your body made in the distance as you dropped from a high board and diapered deep into the water. By the time you came up for air, the judges had determined their score. It had nothing to do with your face. (You)
The entire book has a dreamlike or movie-like quality. The main character, who is never officially named, comes across as mentally unstable and paranoid. She makes really rash and irrational decisions and she is constantly trying to convince herself that the right choice is not possible. Of course, that is assuming she is a rational person who wants to set things straight. All of her prevarications and actions point to her subconsciously wanting to separate herself completely from her real identity. View Spoiler »When a new identity becomes problematic and her lies become too difficult to conceal, she sheds that identity too. The twin sister added a really interesting element to the novel. The twin sister loves attention and drama, while our main character is content to fade into the background. It was really interesting how the twin sister seemed to be crowding the main character out of her own life. « Hide Spoiler The story does feel like it is building up to an explosive ending, but it goes out quietly with a somewhat open ending.
This book is more of a thought experiment, than a piece focused on plot and character development. If you had the opportunity to assume a new identity, would you do it? How far would you take it? If you can get past the writing style, don’t mind open endings, and you like books that explore specific concept (identity in this case), this book is for you. If you like this one, The Beautiful Bureaucrat has a similar vibe.
As the van begins its drive out of Meknes, you see an intricate keyhole-shaped arch that leads into the ruins of what was once the royal palace. The arch is decorated with glazed blue, green, and red earthenware mosaics in the form of stars and rosettes. You watch as one woman enters through the arch, and another exits. You snap a photo, the first one of many you will take with this new camera, someone else’s camera.