The Lovers, By Vendela Vida

Life, love and loss in Turkey
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The Independent Culture

Bereavement is difficult to articulate. Its utter desolation can make for depressing reading, with dark hues of sorrow, anger, denial, yearning, loneliness, frustration and guilt. Vendela Vida's novel focuses on a widow, Yvonne, who travels to the Turkish village where she honeymooned, intending to revisit tender memories. The resort is dismal, and Yvonne's grief-ravaged state contrasts savagely with the euphoric honeymoon of her past. She makes friends with a boy, Ahmed, but tragedy intervenes.

Vida is perceptive about the rush of contradictory emotions, the periods of strength and control so easily toppled by tidal waves of loss. She ventures too into complex territory, expressing Yvonne's guilt at having flashes of relief. She's also excellent on parenthood: the way parents sometimes categorise their children – "the success", "the troubled one" – and how they often empathise with one child more than another.

A further theme is intrusion – from snatches of overheard conversations to Yvonne's actual friendships. How far should one intrude into the lives of others? Yvonne makes a friend, Ozlem, because of Ozlem's uninvited visits. In contrast,damage can result from inveigling oneself into another's life, as happens with Ahmed. Vida has a devilishly unrelenting eye for fallibility: Ozlem is vain, selfish, jealous. And there's a delicious anecdote about a suitor of Yvonne's who subscribed to a vocabulary site that plopped an impressive word into his inbox every day. He laboriously manoeuvred conversation to use these words, unaware that Yvonne also received the missives.

Vida's use of symbolism is often eloquent but sometimes heavy-handed. Whirling dervishes, mounds of volcanic lava formed by spinning winds trapped in the valley and a blasting sandstorm echo Yvonne's frenzied, circular thoughts and blinding confusion.

The final disaster is vaguely implausible, as a mother, teacher and veteran of school trips might have picked up on indicators of danger. There are also minor slips – twice, the honeymoon was 26 years ago, twice 28; Yvonne perches on a chair but is then aware of the couch beneath her. Despite these minor flaws, The Lovers is a moving work on the tumbling, overwhelming emotions that follow this rawest of events. At one stage, a trio of clouds forms an ellipse, symbolising the uncertainty of Yvonne's future. Grief combines agonising nostalgia with terror of the future, and Vida captures this artfully.

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