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Book Review: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

International Friendship Day seems a good time to post this review of Christine Mangan’s Tangerine set in 1950s Morocco about two college friends, one British and the other American, whose paths cross again after a year of no contact.

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends – once inseparable roommates – haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right.

Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy, always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice – she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

I don’t know whether it was Joyce Carol Oates’ cover quote which first put it in mind but Tangerine always feels as if it gives more than a nod to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Their roles may differ but I couldn’t stop rhyming (Alice) Shipley with (Tom) Ripley while reading and then there’s the scene where Lucy tries on Alice’s clothes, resembling one where Tom dons Dickie Greenleaf’s. That said, this tale of toxic friendship is worth a read in its own right.

I enjoyed reading Tangerine for its Moroccan setting at a time when the country is on the verge of independence. You can sense change and uncertainty coming and Lucy seems a harbinger of this, not least for Alice whose brittle coping mechanisms are about to be tested.

It’s the relationship between Alice and Lucy which is pivotal to this book and all the more interesting once the backstory comes through and you find out what happened a year ago at Bennington and why it was of such importance and arguably life-changing for both women, albeit in different ways.

As for the other characters, Alice’s expat husband, John, seems insubstantial alongside the women but it’s telling that both he and Lucy are the ones who feel at home in Tangier. It instantly aligns the two of them, leaving Alice yet more isolated. And while I wasn’t ecstatic to see the main local character take a fairly stereotypical role, I understand why this was done.

In fact, the scenes where he and Lucy walk the city add depth to the story where they talk about the meaning of names, history and layering, and being at the crossroads where various things meet. It all feeds into what Lucy senses is happening between her and Alice, further encourages her to act and helps the reader see why she might be so bold here, far from home.

There were a couple of other niggles thanks to a rather contrived phone call and a relative who disappoints when she most needs to come through for someone. But, apart from those, this story of obsession, jealousy and thwarted plans is riveting and I read Tangerine with increasing horror and fascination, as the truth of the women’s friendship is revealed and their reunion becomes more and more fractious.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan is published by Little, Brown. It is available as an audiobook and an ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery

My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

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