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Vendela Vida
The Lovers
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2010

Ecco / HarperCollins
USA Trade Hardcover, First Edition
ISBN 978-0-060-82839-4
Publication Date: 06-22-2010
240 pages, $ 23.99
Date Reviewed: 08-23-2010

Index:  General Fiction

Who are we when we read? Who do we become when we enter the perceptions of the character via prose of the writer? Does our sense of self dissolve and drown in the ocean of words?

Identity is a slippery notion. The second we ponder our own sense of self, the words that do so annihilate the object of our observation. But only if they are our own words, and the self our own self. While reading a book, something different transpires. Immersed in the flow of words, in the flow of a character's perceptions, we slip outside our sense of self. As the author creates a character with carefully chosen language, as a fully-realized human being is revealed to us, in those moments we may step outside ourselves just long enough to meet the stranger, the face we see in the mirror.

In Vendela Vida's 'The Lovers' (Ecco / HarperCollins ; June 22, 2010 ; $23.99), we meet Yvonne, a fifty-three year-old widow, as she arrives in Turkey. She's on holiday, ostensibly to connect with her son and daughter, but her journey is not external. When we meet Yvonne, we do not know who she is, beyond the most basic external facts, but neither does she. In Turkey, first in Datca and then in Knidos, Yvonne finds herself untethered. She realizes that the face in the mirror is that of a stranger.

Vida's novel is a work of character-driven revelation, written in prose that seems inevitable. She creates a sense of destiny in each word we read. The seas and sand that surround Yvonne, the ancient towns and the weather-beaten architecture, have washed away everything but the sparse sentences we find on the pages. 'The Lovers' is a time-worn mirror discovered at the bottom of a drawer, and in the yellowed silver, the images we glimpse seem fraught with unspoken love and repressed distress.

Against this ancient background, Yvonne finds herself in the midst of increasingly and disturbingly absurd modern shenanigans. Though she is supposed to be the sole occupant of the house she is renting, she never even gets a firm footing. Inside, she finds unseemly evidence of the previous occupants. The man who rented the house to her shows up. One of his wives insinuates herself into Yvonne's life. The maid arrives with her family in tow. Vida infuses this with a low-key sense of humor, an undercurrent of the surreal. But Yvonne never really gets a chance to unpack in any sense of the word. She's forced to withdraw, and that inward journey forms the backbone of a plot that unfolds through the revelation of character.

Vida's novel is not just an interior journey however. With deft and powerful strokes, she sends Yvonne further into Turkey and herself, where events unfold that find Yvonne in a hall of mirrors. The problem with mirrors of course, is that they are not magical, but perfectly reflective. The careful prose and the character insights unfold with dizzying speed. This is a novel that etches itself into the reader as if it were one of the reader's own memories. Ultimately, what you discover, if you're lucky, when you look in the mirror, is yourself.

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