Everyone has heard the old adage – ‘you can’t judge a book by its’ cover’. In the world of modern day book publishing, however, your cover had better be not only catchy but also somehow convey what can be expected in between the covers. Failure to do this could see your work misfiled or, even worse, incorrectly categorized and marketed to the wrong readers.
When I looked at the cover to the intriguing debut novel TANGERINE by Christine Mangan it definitely told me a story. In stark almost film noir black and white you see a young woman in a blouse and skirt shielding her eyes to something. It immediately called to mind a setting of say “Casablanca”. If you agree with me you’ll be pleased to know the locale isn’t actually that far off.
TANGERINE is set in Morocco. Specifically, in the area known as Tangier. The year is 1956 and Alice has relocated from the U.S. to Tangier with her husband, John. Much to Alice’s surprise she opens the door one day to see her old College friend, Lucy, standing on the doorstep. Once Lucy enters and is introduced to John the games have begun.
Told in the form of two narrators — Alice and Lucy — each chapter flips back and forth between their two points of view while driving the plot forward. What Mangan peels back layer by layer is the reason why these two former roommates and best friends had not spoken for over a year. Yes, there is a deep, dark secret that happened during their last year at Bennington College in Vermont and the reader will have to make up their own mind on which version of these events you want to believe.
While reading this terrific debut release I had to draw immediate comparison to the work of Patricia Highsmith. Specifically, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and THE PRICE OF SALT which was made into the Oscar-nominated film “Carol”. When it appears that the dark secret involves a tragedy which may or may not have been an accident it also reminded me of the classic novel by John Knowles, A SEPARATE PEACE. Like that Knowles novel, TANGERINE deserves to be read at the High School/College level and discussed in-depth as this is a great character study that keeps you guessing right up to the end. The act of violence that impacts both A SEPARATE PEACE as well as TANGERINE is one in which the reader must decide for themselves if it was or was not an intentional one.
The title, TANGERINE, comes from the conscious mispronunciation of the word Tangier by a character in the story. This is a perfect metaphor to highlight the fact that Alice is the thing that does not fit in the equation — both being in Morocco and in a marriage that is not working with her unfaithful husband. At the heart of this novel is the triangle relationship between Alice, John and Lucy. When one of these characters ‘disappears’ in the final act, it will really strain the relationship between the ones left to deal with it. As Alice muses at one point in the novel: ‘Tangier and Lucy were the same… both unsolvable riddles that refused to leave me in peace.’
The most interesting thing throughout the novel is the fourth character — that being the city of Tangier itself. This haunting and intriguing place provides the perfect backdrop for this tale just as it did for William Burroughs’ NAKED LUNCH and Paul Bowles’ THE SHELTERING SKY. I won’t divulge anything further so as to not spoil the ending for you. Leave it said that TANGERINE is a wonderful novel and the fact that it is a first effort speaks to the skills that Christine Mangan displays throughout. Skills that are reminiscent of a much more mature writer or those of someone who is putting her MFA in Gothic Literature and Fiction to the test.