"They are...how do you say that they never leave their spouse? How do you say that they are what I am not?"
The Lovers is a short novel written by Vendela Vida and published by Ecco (HarperCollins) in 2010. It's not a novella nor does it pretend to be one. Yet there is something in the elegance of its focus and the directness of its structure which, to me, makes it feel particularly "novella-like." I will be picking it apart over the next few posts in order to seek some understanding of these narrative choices. Part of the question of "why novella" is the question of "why not." Also, the novel fascinates me in its refusal to be interested in "society," its determination to be specifically interested in the experiences of one woman, her psychology, and her experiences in one place over a very short period of time.
Vida's The Lovers tells the story of Yvonne, a year after the loss of her husband of some decades, on a stop-over in Turkey–the site of their honeymoon many years back. The present-day action is simple: Yvonne settles into her rental house, explores a sleepy (or depressed) town, reflects on the changes time has wrought (on the town, on herself, on her family), makes passing friendships with the home-owner's ex-wife, a couple on a day trip, and a young boy at the beach. As she passes through these somewhat routine travel experiences, she retells–to herself and to others–the stories of her marriage, her kids' struggles, her husbands' death by car accident. The novel is not, it should be said, only the sum of these parts. Yvonne is an observer, and a woman in a transitional state: she instinctively seeks to categorize, understand, and make sense of what is around her, and to make sense of her marriage, her family, her life. She looks hard: the "sense" she makes is not always enthusiastic.
In making sense of these things, and observing what is around her, the novel is quick, broken into short scenes, and direct: the sequence does not jump forward in time (though the memories are from all over her life map), and there is some claustrophobia in the slow crawl of her time in Datça (and on the beaches of Knidos, where she meets the boy). I think this claustrophobia is what gives the novel its "novella-like" feel. There is no broad canvas, and only in the restricted cincture of her memories do we get anything approaching a "social canvas" (i.e. thoughts on "marriage" or "parenthood," etc.). To me, this is fascinating and worthy of exploration. I'll dig into it more in the next post.
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