Tangerine, by Christine Mangan

I am going to begin this review by saying that I greatly disliked this book. It doesn’t mean that it is a bad book, or badly written. But I hated how this book made me feel and I will say it was not an enjoyable read. If you are looking for a fun beach read, do not be fooled by the exotic hot setting in Morocco: this is not your book.

The setting was perhaps the best part of the book. Tangier was very well developed and creates the major theme of the story.

“I knew Tangier had been repetitively conquered throughout its existence, so it was always absorbing culture after culture until it had become an accumulation of everyone and everything that had passed through its gates over the centuries.”

There is the idea that Tangier is history upon history, layered one atop the other; that there is a reinvention that occurs with every age. And so she survives. Lucy, the antihero, is Tangier personified and so she too will survive, in whatever reiteration of herself she chooses. She doesn’t care what is right and offers no morality of any kind other than survival. She, like the book, is cold. There is no justice, as is true of history in general.

While the setting is very well developed, the entire book has a sense of distance or surreality about it, so Tangier almost seems to shimmer like a mirage in desert heat. You get a sense of what it’s about, but can never actually arrive to be able to feel it.

This distance was one of my problems with the book. The author keeps the characters aloof from the reader, so that I found I was never really connecting with any of them. And the pacing could be uneven as well. I really enjoyed the flashback parts set in Vermont; however, Mangan steams through these parts and gives away the big mystery quite early in the book, leaving me waiting in vain for the other shoe to drop. I wasn’t sure if the book could maintain its pacing, and in fact it did not.

The book made me very emotionally uncomfortable too, probably due to the proliferation of gaslighting going on. Whenever I’m confronted with an example of gaslighting, whether in literature, film, or in reality, it makes me shudder, as it is so cruel. It takes away a person’s very sense of self. I found a good definition of gaslighting on healthyplace.com:

“Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything.”

Lucy uses her knowledge of Alice’s frailty to make her question everything about herself and her life, until there is nothing left. And I was frustrated and saddened, wanting to give Alice a good shake but also falling into her feeling of hopelessness and despondency. There are spoilers ahead, so if you are planning to read this book, you can end this post on that note: gorgeous location and interesting themes, but overall a book that is distant and unnecessarily cruel.

I think that it’s the hopelessness that really got me in the end. If there had been a different ending, this would have been a very different post. Listen, this might be extraordinarily naïve of me, but I unapologetically desire a happy ending. Maybe not even happy. But I demand that there be some amount of hope somewhere. And Tangerine offered nothing for me. I found the ending to be unnecessarily cruel because Alice was an innocent throughout. Her failing was how weak she was – she is not Tangier, she cannot survive and does not. Her existence at the end is bleak – forgotten and penniless in a Spanish madhouse. Her only real crime was to become the roommate of a delusional obsessive psychopath. And the psychopath wins, and thrives. I just cannot with the ending.