After my last book review, on 25 June (for Lips Unsealed: a Memoir by Belinda Carlisle) I decided to tackle the pile of magazines that had been growing taller by the day. Once I got that pile down to zero, I would read another book. There was a three-week vacation in the middle of all that, and now I can report on the book I finished today, The Lovers, by Vendela Vida. This is the first novel I’ve read since 13 March (which was The Fierce Dispute by Helen Hooven Santmyer).
I read Vida’s last novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name because of its setting: Norwegian Lapland, specifically in Finnmark county, which I have visited on more than one occasion. I was hooked immediately by Vida’s writing style, a style which I ordinarily frown upon. Vida is a master of minimalism. Both Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and The Lovers are not very long books (226 and 228 pages, respectively) yet they contain so much more than what is on the printed page.
The Lovers tells the story of Yvonne, a recent widow who travels to Turkey in order to relive the honeymoon she spent with her late husband. As she retraces the steps she took with her newlywed husband, she discovers that the towns are now decrepit and the vibrant scene that greeted her as a new bride is now a withered deterioration. She befriends a young boy, Ahmet, as he spends his days on the lonely beaches diving for shells. The story tells of Yvonne’s infatuation with Ahmet and her growing obsession with him. The story takes a tragic turn and Yvonne uses it to reflect upon her own past and her relationships with her twin children and late husband.
Vida’s minimalism is in her brief sentences. She can say so much by writing so little. Frequently I stopped reading in order to admire her imagery. The reader will be most impressed with her choice of words to describe and compare the Turkish scenery. How she describes the ocean, or the burning heat, and how she picks up on people’s supposedly inconsequential actions all combine to create such a vivid picture, that one almost feels as though the entire moment is defined by these “inconsequential actions”. A brush of an eyelash or a trickle of sweat is described so vividly and so succinctly that one feels as if each scene is defined by that eyelash or that trickle. I was made dizzy as I ate breakfast this morning reading about Yvonne’s trip to see the whirling dervishes of Konya.
Just as in her prior novel, I was so worried that my peripheral vision would spoil the surprises I would find on each page, that I took to reading each page with a bookmark underneath each line, in order not to gaze down even one or two lines ahead. I did not want my eyes to scatter across the next page before I focussed on the first word on the top left side. The Lovers did not disappoint, as it kept me in suspense right up until its abrupt, and surprising ending.