The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty: A Novel
“Extreme circumstances require radical change. If you want to survive at least,” one of the characters explains to the narrator of Vendela Vida’s novel The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. His observation encapsulates the narrator’s predicament and one of the themes of the novel. The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is a clever, gripping, engaging sort-of mystery thriller about a woman’s identity and survival.
The 30-something pseudonymous female narrator of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty begins her story en route to Morocco. Her paranoia and lack of preparation for her trip suggest that she is running away from something that happened to her in Florida, her home. Shortly after arriving at her hotel in Casablanca, her backpack, which contains her passport, money, camera, laptop, and all identification, is stolen. She then has to figure out how to survive in Morocco without proof of identity or money.
Vendela Vida relates her tale through the voice and thoughts of a second-person narrator. This strategy lends the story a sense of immediacy, veracity, and informality. The reader is addressed directly by “you” and included in the drama of the moment.
When the narrator’s backpack is taken she relates: “You are growing increasingly panicked—you are in Morocco and you don’t have your backpack. You think of everything in it—laptop, wallet with credit cards and all the cash you took out at Miami International. . . . As the list of inventory of lost contents increases, you forget to breathe.”
The story is part mystery/thriller and part absurdist/postmodern novel with a feminist slant. It is simultaneously funny and serious. Its themes of doubleness, identity, persecution, and paranoia as well as its nameless or allusively named narrators and references to popular culture are reminiscent of Kafka’s The Trial and Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.
One of the ideas explored in The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is the fluidity and malleability of identity. The narrator, whose true name is never disclosed, loses her mysterious identity and is then forced to take on the name of another woman whose passport she is given.
She then lands a part as a stand-in for a nameless “famous actress” taking on her identity as well as another pseudonym. Further, we discover that the narrator is a twin with a complicated relationship to her sister. When the narrator cuts her hair to look like the woman whose passport she possesses but then, ironically, needs to wear a wig to appear more like her pre-haircut self and like the famous actress she stands in for she astutely observes: “You are putting on a wig so you more closely resemble the way you looked before you weren’t you.”
Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is smart, thoroughly engrossing, funny, and even a bit disturbing. The female narrator and the second-person narrative and quirky plot provide a fresh twist to the travel novel and mystery/thriller genres.