The Lovers: A Novel by Vendela Vida
Oh, Vendela! You write so well, your characters POP right off the page fully formed, your setting description – wow.
Ack, but the ending! You've pained me, Vendela, stuck me through with a sword. I bleed! I want my afternoon back!
When The Lovers begins, 55-year old Yvonne has lost her husband, Peter, in an unexpected and violent way, at a particularly low point in their marriage. Their daughter – Aurelia – had been fighting an on-again, off-again battle with drug and alcohol addiction, putting a strain on their formerly happy marriage, sending their lives into chaos.
At the point of Peter's death their hopes for their daughter were slowly rising, though cautiously, but things were still on shaky ground. Losing Peter at such a critical juncture in all their lives – including that of Aurelia's twin brother Matthew, the perfect child – left Yvonne with even more pain, knowing everything ended before they had a chance to find a resolution and come back to each other.
Still unable to come to grips with her loss a couple years later, and tired of being treated as "that poor widow," Yvonne heads to exotic Turkey, where she and husband Peter spent their honeymoon roughly 25 years before. She's rented the second home of a rich Turkish businessman (one with kinky sex habits, by the way, though this isn't intrusive in the main plot), and begins exploring the countryside.
Driving a rented Renault, she stumbles upon the town of Knidos, in which Peter had taken her photo in front of ancient ruins so long ago - a photo he'd kept on his desk at work, symbolizing a joyful honeymoon. Because of the pleasant memories she begins spending all her days at Knidos, swimming and lounging on the beach, soon meeting a young boy named Ahmet. Although neither speaks the other's language he manages to convey to her that he's selling shells he's collected. Because she feels motherly toward the very sweet, courteous boy she gives him a more than generous amount of money for a shell. Every day after Yvonne visits the beach, and every day she grows to know Ahmet more and more.
Then tragedy strikes, an unthinkable, particularly painful tragedy. And Vida does tragedy pretty well, thankyouverymuch. She's sneaky that way. She really knows how to nail it, to build suspense and raw emotion. Girl can WRITE!
I can't reveal where things go from here without giving away too much plot, unfortunately. I also can't reveal that blasted ending, the one that ruined the beauty of the whole rest of the book for me. The one that made me lose a bit of respect for my former literary icon Joyce Carol Oates, as well, for her revoltingly cloying praise of the "utterly unpredictable ending."
Well, Joyce. It's "unpredictable" because it's so damned STUPID. It's as if Vida's editor was standing over her, tapping his watch and snapping his fingers so she'd wrap it all up, already, never mind if it ruined an otherwise beautiful book.
ARRRRRRRRGH! My God is that frustrating. To get 99 % through a mostly lovely book (okay, there were a couple stumbles, but they were minor) only to find the world's most unbelievable and did I mention STUPID ending? I felt robbed! Cheated! I spent my afternoon with Vendela, split between her book and loads of laundry! And she does this to me?
Ecco/Harper Collins, I know you've already published the book. I didn't reach you soon enough to IMPLORE you to do something about the way things wrap up. The terrible, horrible, and did I mention STUPID denouement (a very pretty French word for a very ugly ending).
As such, I can't recommend the book. I don't want other readers rushing out to spend precious time on something that ends so, so badly. How could I, in good conscience? Sure, misery loves company, but not when it comes to recommending – or not recommending – a book.
So close. Yet so far.
And so, so STUPID.
[I read a free review copy of this book, sent by Vida's publicist, who probably hates me now.]
2 thoughts on “The Lovers: A Novel by Vendela Vida”
I like the way Vendela Vida crafted the novel. It is somber, seductive and she’s just pointing out that most of us snore through our lives, and that’s on a good day.
I’d agree, save for the ending. It was rushed and just plain sophomoric. I’m really shocked her husband, Dave Eggers, didn’t advise her to write an ending more appropriate to the style of the rest of the story. It completely ruined it, though I get the theme.