The Lovers, By Vendela Vida
A voyage round my late husband
Sunday 03 July 2011
What an unusual and refreshing read this is: a seemingly uneventful but playful and ultimately heart-breaking narrative about a woman from Vermont who travels to Turkey to relive her honeymoon.
Two years after the death of her husband, this is the one last ghost Yvonne must put to rest as part of her mourning. Will the thoughts and feelings that come up finally allow Peter to rest in peace in her mind? Or is this trip a mental challenge too far for a woman already close to the edge?
Vendela Vida explores the role of the journey with intelligence and tenderness. "It was only now, while sitting at this roadside restaurant on the Datça peninsula, that she fully comprehended the claustrophobia she'd experienced for the past two years. She had been under surveillance, in the way that was particular to new widows." At last, in a foreign country, Yvonne can be "the observer rather than the observed". The sense of freedom spills off the page.
A sense of humour is also sprinkled liberally throughout. Yvonne is a calm, measured woman – a history teacher – not easily shocked and used to hiding her emotions. But even she is intrigued at what she finds in the house she has rented. Nestled next to a Turkish translation of The Da Vinci Code is a casually discarded English-language copy of The Woman's Guide to Anal Sex.
This is the first in a series of objects which suggest that someone has been conducting a not entirely unadventurous affair from the house. When the glamorous young wife of the landlord turns up and her English is not good enough for her to be the owner of the book, Yvonne realises that she is getting herself into a potentially rather difficult situation.
Meanwhile, pining for her own two grown-up children – the recovering addict Aurelia and the "perfect" Matthew – Yvonne befriends a 10-year-old boy on the beach, Ahmet, whose innocence reminds her of a time in her own life as a mother, before things went horribly wrong. The reader is torn between feeling sympathy for Yvonne, who is obviously lonely and confused, and an impending sense of doom; that something is going to go very wrong if she continues to attempt to mother this boy.
The comedy of recognition features heavily. The sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach as you think to yourself: "Why did I wire that money to someone I only know from the internet?" Or the horror at wrecking a hire car, matched only by the desperate hope that you won't be found out.
Then, after a lot of unexpectedly pleasurable psychological meandering, echoing Yvonne's travels around the Turkish coast, suddenly we swerve into a tragedy which threatens to become even bigger than the one Yvonne came here to escape.
There is something both endearing and original about this unpretentious read. I missed a train stop twice on the same journey while reading it. That's how distractingly good it is. Is there any better advert for a travel novel?
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