Book Review: The Divers Clothes Lie Empty (a second-person feast)

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I am reading a 1000-page nonfiction book (Far From the Tree) and while it is riveting, I needed a little something to slip in there to keep things lively. Or to keep my quota up. Anyway….I chose The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida.

Vida chooses to write this in second person, which is, to me, the hardest voice to manage, as it can feel very awkward. Second person tends to create some distance for me, in that I feel as if I have put the body of the protagonist on like a mask, so while I am seeing things as I am her, I am also aware that I am not “you” to whom the book is speaking, and I am aware of the layer between me and the world of the novel. That said, the use of second person also works well in terms of keeping surprises hidden, as the reader only ever has as much information as the character is willing to share. It is a hypnotic style that allows the reader to be carried along with the main character and adds to the sense of unreality she experiences as she shifts identities.

One could say that this book is about a deeply disturbed woman who chooses to abandon all responsibility and ejects from any situation before appropriate consequences are leveled, but that would be somewhat disingenuous and too literal an interpretation. The core of the story is an examination, through the device of a traveler losing their passport and other identifying items, of what might happen when a person is cut loose from what used to be the moorings of their life. As the character’s prior identities are stripped away, her sense of connection to events diminishes, and she seemingly accepts the notion that who or what she really is, as a person, is flexible and impermanent. This is a deeply disturbing notion for most of us, who rely on our core identification of self as the load-bearing structure of the rest of our reality. If I am not who I believe I am, then what happens to everything else that I have so carefully arranged around that belief?

Fascinating, hypnotic, not too long–overall a quite interesting book if you are able to confront and examine why it makes you uncomfortable and see that process as an exercise the story was designed to provoke. 4 stars.

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