200 DSC07968Vendela Vida, 2010

Let’s start by saying that I wolfed this book down in two giant helpings which says everything for its exquisite readability. The Lovers is the story not, as you might assume, of a middle-aged woman who falls in love with a younger Turkish man (way too cliched). Instead it tells how widowed American Yvonne returns to Datça where she had honeymooned with her late husband Peter and becomes obsessed with a young shell collector whom she meets on the beach at Knidos. They are far from the only “lovers” though since the book meanders back over Yvonne and Peter’s marriage while also peeking in on the relationship between Ali and Özlem in whose house Yvonne is staying.

Turkey provides a constant backdrop to these stories and, at least for the first half of the book, it’s a very real Turkey with a Datça that is simultaneously shabby and disappointing then picaresquely so full of owls that one actually takes up residence in the house with Yvonne.  Knidos, too, has the ring of truth to it as does Cleopatra’s Beach which Yvonne visits on the sort of easily misunderstood social occasion which most visitors and expats will recognise.

Unfortunately something goes wrong in the second half of the book when the author appears to wake up to the fact that she is writing about Turkey and decides that it isn’t enough to focus on Datça. On the flimsiest of excuses suddenly Yvonne is hurtling across the country visiting the whirling dervishes in Konya and then holing up in Ürgüp where the part that small Cappadocian town has played in Turkish television history gets shoehorned into the story. One wonders whether pressure from publishers (the same publishers who supplied the book with a front cover featuring the coast around Kaş rather than around Datça?) lay behind this. The writing remains richly readable although unfortunately what had seemed like a very real and meaningful piece of fiction suddenly starts to read like a rushed travelogue. That’s unfortunate enough but it also means that the clues that hinted at juicy future development early in the story (the sex swing, the book on anal sex) are strangled at birth. 

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