The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends – once inseparable roommates – haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right. 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. 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…
Two points to make before I launch into my review for the fragrant Tangerine.
(1) When you read publicity material that says it’s like Girl On A Train meets Patricia Highsmith, ignore TGOTT bit and focus on the Highsmith comparison which is absolutely spot on.
(2) This is currently Waterstones Book of the Month for February, and my venerable employer will appreciate the nod. Actually, on the back of this, I have a feeling that I am going to love recommending this book all month…
So let us begin.
I am an ardent fan of Patricia Highsmith, and I genuinely think that Christine Mangan, albeit with her own particular writing flair and style, has captured something of the atmosphere of the aforementioned doyenne of psychological crime. The book is an amalgamation of suffocating obsessive behaviour suffused with a location that also wields a suffocating atmosphere on the characters contained within. Alice Shipley is the timid little wife, wrestling with the demons of events some years previously during her residence at a college in Vermont, adrift in the stultifying domestic routine of her ill advised relocation to Tangier with her husband, John. Only thinking that she needs to conquer her increasingly isolated existence in this bustling, overwhelming and foreign environment along comes Lucy, a real blast from a not altogether pleasant past, and here is where the fun begins…
Written in alternating character viewpoints we bear witness to first, the hugely differing responses of the women to Tangier itself, with Alice resisting and Lucy embracing the idiosyncrasies of this city in the grip of political and social unrest. This theme expands to their different interactions with those around them, the ex-pats and the natives with both women again separated by their willingness to engage or ignore. At another level, the microscope is put on their relationship, defined by tragic past events, and an examination of the faltering steps to form some kind of relationship in the present, whilst simultaneously assimilating the truth from the fiction of what exactly happened back in Vermont. These are two women, on the surface completely divided by money, class, marital status and more, providing a strange dynamic in their relationship. What unfolds is a breathless, claustrophobic and deeply psychological story that reflects the tensions of all these facets of the narrative, with takes the reader to some dark and dangerous territory of both women’s psyches.
This book got its hooks into me from the very beginning, initially because of Mangan’s manipulation of location. I found it extremely clever how she managed to make both the locations of Vermont and Tangier a mirror of each other despite the obvious differences in climate and landscape. Both are claustrophobic, and both are extremely reflective of the psychological upheaval that Alice in particular experiences, The unrelenting cold of snowy Vermont is as palpable, as the sweltering confusion of Tangiers, and Mangan makes her descriptions of both sing from the pages. I was also fascinated by the shifting parameters of Alice and Lucy’s relationship as the book progresses, and the power that each wields over the other on different emotional levels. The shades of light and dark that colour their every interaction was brilliantly done, holding the reader’s attention, and also in a state of suspense for the eventual reckoning. This was the aspect of the book which was most Highsmithian in its rendition, and all leads to a truly dark denouement, which although a little drawn out towards the end, was incredibly satisfying. A clever, vibrant, suspenseful read.
(I received an ARC via Netgalley from Abacus)