Alice Shipley lives in a plush apartment in Tangier, Morocco with her husband, John. Her life at Bennington, Vermont is oceans away and she is surrounded daily with the bustle of market life and the aroma of the Tangier streets. Tangier herself rises into a shimmering haze of heat, surrounding Alice, at times suffocating Alice as she tries to extricate herself from the memory of Vermont and to thrive in this new environment. She may have managed to continue in this way for some time, had Lucy Mason not knocked on her door, bringing an onslaught of memories with her. Lucy brings reminders of spontaneity, a death, raucous laughter and the warmth of college – Lucy Mason brings chaos to Tangier.
Tangier takes on a new air with the arrival of Lucy. Where Alice had been content to remain in the apartment, Lucy ventured outside and learned the labyrinthine streets of Tangier and grew fluent in the language of the street hawkers. Their relationship develops, gnarled around the memory of that which remains unspoken. Christine Mangan writes the individual characters and the dynamics of their relationship in a very clever way, fluidly allowing us to guess and second guess ourselves as readers. A hostility emerges in Alice and John’s marriage; a toxic intensity emerges from the air between Alice and Lucy and the streets of Tangier continue to heave with colour, flavour and heat. Mangan writes heat so well, the entire novel sizzles with the strength of the Moroccan setting, the intensity of the writing adding a persistent sexual tinge to the edges of the plot.
Tangier is fighting for political independence throughout the novel, wanting desperately to return to her former glory. Yet the question is always present of what exactly this former glory was, given that Tangier had been occupied so many times by different forces, each time adopting a little more of the invading culture until her ethnicity and identity was blurred. This provided a somewhat transparent metaphor for the development of Alice and, to an extent Lucy. Both characters seem to rely on one another, emerging from a chrysalis made of the other’s skin, their own self submerged.
Yet, I felt as though both female characters were too strong to allow the dual narrative, developed through alternating viewpoint chapters. In my humble view, the plot was extraordinary and in some cases, less may have equated to more. Mangan’s ambitions were clear from the get-go, she wanted to write a psychological thriller where the reader would be guessing until the final page; in that respect, she did a beautiful job. However, there were so many turns and impulses that I felt the strength of the plot was watered down as a result. Tangerine was psychological, intense, well written and the plot mirrored Tangier spectacularly as the plot weaved and wound, in synchronicity with the winding streets of Tangier. The ending was a little dramatic and overdone but in many ways, the overwritten drama of much of the novel allows that ending to feel appropriate. I adored the surreal, almost dreamlike quality of much of the novel, it provided a superb contrast between the mundane grey of New York City, where real life awaited Lucy Mason.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
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