Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Lulu in Marrakech

Lulu in Marrakech (2008) is by Diane Johnson, of Le Divorce fame.  I'm a fan of Le Divorce and bought a bunch of Johnson books one day which I've been slowly going through.  Lulu in Marrakech is about a young woman, an American spy, who goes to live with her boyfriend in Morocco at the behest of the CIA and await orders.  She's a low-level spy so mostly she's just supposed to keep her ear to the ground and listen for gossip.  Her British boyfriend owns a riad (a historic guesthouse) and they have many visitors from England and France.

Post 9/11, there's a lot of talk about charitable organizations that really fund terrorism, and a bit of drama re: a French Muslim teenager who is hiding in Morocco because her brother suspects she's no longer a virgin and threatened to kill her.  Lulu and her friends are naturally appalled, and do what they can to help her.

The spy-stuff felt purely extraneous - what I like about Johnson is how she explores different cultures, and she certainly does in this book - the food, the souk, the riad, the music, dance, etc.  Unfortunately Lulu is a bit of a boring character (despite being a spy in Marrakech????) and mostly moons around about her boyfriend and imagines how easy her life would be if she could just marry him and have babies, although Johnson doesn't give her a break for that.  "How easily I could be melted into wifehood, that time-honored refuge and slightly unchallenging calling - I even yearned for it deliciously. I could even stay in my job, could tell him about it."

There's a focus on the treatment of women in muslim culture, particularly the practice purdah, wearing the veil, and so-called "honor killings".

Maybe because of the way she writes - first person past-tense, she reminds me a bit of Austen or a Brontë - the story moves slowly and traditionally and has a very comforting rhythm I like.  The front of my copy reads "A sweet confection of a novel." which, to me, is kind of insulting, but that is fairly accurate - not too deep but certainly not moronic, it is a nice confection of a novel.

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