- Book: Tangerine
- Location: Tangier
- Author: Christine Mangan
Tangier: “You cry when you arrive, and you cry when you leave”
The early reviews of this novel indicated that setting was a character in itself. The teaming and oppressive streets of Tangier in 1956 do really come to full and colourful life, and like the city, it is a story that sucks the reader in. Indeed, even Paul Bowles, a go-to author for books that conjure up Morocco of the 1950s (and who in fact features on our Pinterest Board “Top Travel Books (ever?)”, has a walk on part.
Alice and Lucy shared digs in Vermont at Bennington College. Forward a short period of time to 1956 and Alice is living with her husband John in Tangier. An unspecified accident dissolved their friendship at college and Lucy headed to New York. Both girls had lost their parents in earlier years, a fact that seemingly drew them to each other in the first instance; but over the months and ensuing years ructions occurred, culminating in one minor incident about ownership of a bracelet and an incident that was much more profound. Despite all their history, here is Lucy one day, unannounced, and on Alice’s doorstep in Tangier.
Alice is in an unhappy and emotionally undermining relationship and has become cowed, hardly leaving the apartment, whilst her husband is out gallivanting, seduced by the lure and capriciousness of the city. Alice opens the door reluctantly to Lucy, who goes on to insinuate herself into Alice’s life.
As the story progresses, the reader must decide who is behaving oddly, who, even may be showing signs of mental health issues. Randomly arriving on someone’s door after a terrific fall-out – and out of the blue – seems like madness; yet Alice letting Lucy across the apartment threshold, without a quibble, also seems singularly foolish.
This is stylish storytelling, a beautifully written book, with interesting characters. Tangier, the city of rainbow colour and teaming masses is indeed a character in its own right, a wonderfully described setting in terms of TripFiction and literary wanderlust. The author makes use of the coastline history and the souks and alleyways, with visits to the famous Cafe Hafa, established in 1921. The city is colourfully – and at times menacingly depicted – as a place with many sides; it is also a city that has had to bend and adjust to different rulers – originally Tingis, Tanger in French, Tánger when the Spanish were there and Tanjah in Arabic. A multi faceted metropolis.
I immensely enjoyed the book, it has shades of Patricial Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier. It lost a little of its taut construct and petered out just a little towards the end but that is a tiny gripe, as the book has stayed with me since I read it.
And why the title? Tangerine / tan(d)ʒəˈriːn/ – “of or pertaining to Tangier”… (and also the port from which tangerines were first shipped to Europe in 1841).
If you like the style of writing in Tangerine, then you might also like the TV series, The Last Post, set in Oman, and the novel In The Kingdom of Men, set in Saudi Arabia and both set a little later in the 1960s. Women struggling in a man’s world… with an eloquent and sultry setting.
The book is soon to be a major film starring Scarlett Johansson, produced by George Clooney.