Review by Alex Kosoris
I hate talking about books I didn’t like, especially those that thoroughly disappointed me, like The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. It’s a difficult task to express such a thing effectively without being mean or, at least, discouraging, while remaining honest. It’s not even that this was necessarily the worst of the worst that I’ve read, but my expectations were held high wandering into this story, and it most definitely failed to meet them. I mean, the book sounded interesting and the reviews I read ahead of time were glowing. I then heard that Vida wrote with the uncommon second-person narrative, which I’ve only experienced in Bright Lights, Big City, a book that I loved; I felt that, perhaps, this one could be just as wonderful, because writing in such an unusual way comes across as a gimmick if the author doesn’t have an exceptional reason to do so and if it’s used to prop anything less than a strong plot. We can muse on Vida’s reasons for writing this way, but her story at least failed to impress me.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty starts off with “you” travelling to Morocco, where her belongings – including her money, credit card, and passport – are stolen. In trying to recover them, she is given the belongings of another woman, and decides to take on her identity. She ends up getting spotted by a film crew and offered a job as the famous American actress lead’s body double, and, I suppose, starts getting in over her head as she keeps lying about who she is. The story, at its heart, appears to be about coming to terms with terrible things from “your” past. We, unfortunately, get thrown into things too quickly, not getting a good idea about who “you” is when the story starts, and, as a result, I found it hard to care about her. “You” also didn’t make decisions in any relatable way. You may be able to blame this on my unfamiliarity with her situation, but compare this to a novel like Birdie, where the author made me understand; failing to do so highlights a failure of storytelling. As well, the book was written very matter-of-factly, without much visual flair to the descriptions. People have said that the second-person style makes this hard to read, but I’d attribute it more to the dullness of the prose. (Of course, as “your” past becomes apparent, when “you” becomes an emotional wreck while praying in a mosque was probably my favourite moment in the book due to the richness of the description, but this proves to be the exception rather than the rule.)
For a book whose synopsis on Goodreads boasts to be “a riveting, entrancing novel that explores freedom, power and the mutability of identity,” I think I can safely say that The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is nothing of the sort. As such, I think I can just as safely escape this review without offering it as a recommendation.