Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Christine Mangan - Tangerine

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2018, before it was even released because I saw some good comments on it in some sites I follow. This year I got the book and this month I managed to start it. I was really looking for the mystery inferred from the blurb to dazzle me but in the end, for me, this story didn't really reach its best potential.

This story starts with Alice Shipley, a married woman who traveled from the US to Tangier, Morocco, opening her door to Lucy Mason, a former friend from their times studying at Bennington college.
They haven't seen each other for some time and Alice isn't certain of how she feels Lucy has traveled on purpose there to spend time with her. 
Alice feels Tangier isn't the place for her but her husband has loved the place from the start so she has endured despite her loneliness. Will have Lucy there help her? Will she be even more depressed, after al their friendship suffered a hard hit before and that is one of the reasons Alice put distance between them. But Lucy is there, again trying to be part of her life...

This is an interesting story. It quite clear the author got inspiration in some thriller plots already seen in other places (this means the story itself is not very original) and she constructed her own scenario on it. She thought of possible ways to develop her story and she used a fascinating method to make it happen: she picked an exotic enough location and she keeps suggesting certain things as the story moves along.

We are told in little clues here in there, why Lucy and Alice were such great friends and why they are not anymore. We are told the behavior Alice shows is not just a result of her imagination although at times it might seem so.
I think the problem is that the reader is told so many things, is promised a certain kind of idea in relation to these characters that, in my opinion, never actually happens.

My favorite aspect of this novel was the Tangier setting. I really think there are moments one can feel the heat, the dust, the suffocation in the air, the feeling of being displaced, the notion one could not belong, the idea that one can loath and worship such a place at the same time. I've never traveled to Morocco but I did to other - not so "exotic" places, in the sense that they are more obviously culturally different from our own - countries and it's both fascinating and depressing to like a new place, to enjoy being there but wanting to get home to the familiar again.
I think the setting and the differences were enough to sustain some part of this novel's worth.

However, it's because the setting is so specific that the characters failed to impress me. I'm not eve going to comment on the little things that don't make sense, or the choices the characters make in certain situations and that should be different, were they thinking properly, namely Alice.
I get it that some things are just weird on purpose, to enhance the vibe of mystery and confusion.
I can also accept these two things being combined (the odd choices and the purpose of some choices) to make the reader suspicious of everything.

Like I said, though, the build up of every situation, the strangeness of what each character does never reaches a climax because the reader is being told about everything. We are always privy to the characters' actions and thoughts and the mystery is not about the whom and why but ends up being the how. With some authors, this can be brilliant I'm fully aware of that, but I don't think the author here went with this in the best way.
What's the point, then, of all the weird vibe, of knowing all the steps characters took if the end was that predictable and obvious? There was not unexpected twist, no surprise to tell us we were thinking about it in the wrong way.

Alice is exactly who she is when we meet her. She doesn't improve. Lucy has a more interesting development and the reasons for her behavior the surprise part but we know all about her from a certain point on so... why should one be bother to read until the end if the end was so... deflated?
I think this was a case of building up the expectations but in the end there was no way to solve the issues created through the novel. 
I believe, had this been a true mystery where the characters were always portrayed in one way until the final scene or with a heroine (Alice) who would change/improve, this story could have been way better achieved.

In the end, things happen, but nothing really does in fact. I mean, no real surprises, no real climax on all the threads finally reaching closure. I think the story got too complicated for the author to solve in an original manner.
I liked some parts but in the end, this one just didn't quite meet the expectations.
Grade: 6/10

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