The Lovers by Vendela Vida

13th Jul 2011


Like Siri Hudsvedt, whose novel What I Loved generated critical acclaim usually reserved for spouse Paul Auster, Vida’s reputation precedes her.

Touted as ‘the hottest young voice in US fiction’ in 2003 by The Guardian, Vida grew up in California, and was an intern on the Paris Review after gaining an MFA from Columbia University.

On the 2010 Fantasy Memorial album by Dinosaur Feathers next to Teenage Whore, ripe with indie jangling you’ll find a song bearing our author’s name. Praise indeed?!

Co-founder and editor of the hip, literary magazine The Believer, Vida is also a journalist whose earlier forays into girl gang initiations have been followed by books on violence and rage (And Now You Can Go), and a collaboration on the screenplay of Sam MendesAway We Go.

Our author clearly has a lot of get up and go, being instrumental in the founding of the non-profit creative writing for youngsters project 826 Valencia. Check out Eggers’ impassioned Once Upon A School clip on TedTalks and you’ll see the good work being done.

The coastal resorts of Datça and Knidos in Turkey are the setting for The Lovers, where widow Yvonne returns to try and recapture some of the essence of her honeymoon there.

It’s a pretty tall order even to find a restaurant that hasn’t been taken over twice in a decade, so to go a la rècherche 28 years on – surely you’re setting yourself up for a fall? My experience of reading this book recalled the sensation of trying to dive deep enough to reach a brick in a swimming pool as a child but never quite succeeding.

Vida inserts choice props in the narrative that enrich the reader’s image of the setting, but like the unorthodox relationship between the mysterious landlord Mr Çelik and his needy wife Özlem or the difficulties in Yvonne’s relationship with her grown-up children (in particular her daughter Aurelia), these are never satisfactorily explained and leave the reader wanting.

As a solitary female traveller descending on a familial, close-knit Turkish community it is not surprising that Yvonne’s presence arouses suspicion, particularly when Ahmet becomes the object of her attention.

It’s a relationship fulfilling a need in each character, yet Yvonne’s patronage of the boy who lives and breathes the ocean and increasing level of emotional involvement created in me more feelings of unease because it doesn’t quite feel symbiotic and the boy is younger than I initially thought.

The ending feels rushed and while it might wrap things up neatly for our protagonist on her voyage of self-discovery, I had little empathy for Yvonne given her propensity for dodgy situations.

While Vida’s writing occasionally gives a nod to the eeriness so well evoked by Patricia Highsmith, I’d happily volunteer to tip our heroine overboard in the sea off Datça in true Ripley style.

The Lovers is published by Atlantic Books and available in hardback for £7.94 from Amazon.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended for: Those struggling to ‘let go’, and anyone heading to Turkey on holiday.

Other recommended reading: To sate your Wanderlust, check out East Toward Dawn: A Woman’s Solo Journey Around the World by Nan Watkins or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Rebecca Smeaton