Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Set in the mid-1950s, Tangerine by Christine Mangan is a sweaty, claustrophobic, literary psychological thriller with shades of Patricia Highsmith and a plot reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. Alice Shipley is a newly married housewife in her early 20s and has moved with her somewhat older husband John to Tangier, Morocco, where he has a job. Nervous, fearful Alice hates the city - the crowds, the unfamiliar produce in the local market, the confusing, winding streets and the heat all frighten her, and she soon becomes gripped by agoraphobia, confined to her apartment day after day while John is - apparently - working.

One day, she's shocked to discover that her college room mate, Lucy, has arrived in Tangier too. Lucy is capable, independent and seems to be at home in Tangier's caf├ęs and medinas, and she immediately sees that there's something not right about Alice's marriage. On the face of it, she seems the ideal person to bring Alice out of her shell, and help her to acclimatise herself to Tangier and stand up to her manipulative, secretive husband, but although Alice welcomes Lucy to stay, it's clear that there's a history between them. What happened when they were both at Bennington College to cause them to lose touch, and what was the tragedy that caused Alice to have a nervous breakdown shortly afterwards? 

There are sections of this book told from both Alice's and Lucy's points of view, and we gradually start to form a picture of their history and of what happened at Bennington that caused Alice's mental health to break down. There's a strong sense that something isn't quite right, and the backdrop of unrest in Tangier as Morocco gains independence brings an ominous uncertainty. The exoticism of Tangier, with its relentless, glaring sunshine and oppressive heat, is incredibly atmospheric - Tangier itself is, in some ways, the most important character in the book. It's a city in which people can disappear, or be disappeared, all too easily. 

In terms of plot, this isn't a thriller full of twists and shocks - it's more about a slow-building sense of dread as we start to discover more and more about the characters and Alice begins to question her own sanity. It's the evocative setting and constant atmosphere of threat that make Tangerine a gripping read, rather than a shocking plot - in fact, I don't think it's particularly difficult to see where the story is heading. 

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