There is certain risk in casting fiction in a single, narrative voice. If it works, the character carries the day. If it doesn't, well . . .
In her third novel, Vendela Vida pulls off the feat with aplomb, casting The Lovers entirely in the voice of Yvonne, teacher and widow. It begins with Yvonne's arrival in Datca, Turkey, where she and her husband, Peter, had honeymooned.
A few years have passed since Peter's untimely death. It is time for Yvonne to assuage her grief.
Vida, who earned praise with her previous novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Her Name, has an eye for understated details that leap from the page and linger in the mind:
• "The problem with being a history teacher was that everyone assumed your interest in the past was undying. Every birthday gift was an antique."
• "Her voice was suddenly unpleasant, the consonants of her words scraping against each other like a zipper."
Vida deftly weaves the power of description into the broader tapestry of Yvonne's journey as the wife of a fellow teacher and mother of fraternal twins, one of whom waged an epic and often losing battle with drugs and alcohol. The daughter, Aurelia, joins a cast of particularly strong supporting characters, each contributing to Yvonne's rediscovery along the Turkish coast.
The cameos by Aurelia and an emotionally abused Turkish wife, flashbacks to Peter and even an allegorical appearance by an owl provide the novel with perspective without detracting from its central theme.
And one character shines above the others: Ahmet, a playful, industrious Turkish 10-year-old with whom Yvonne forges a bond.
"She had traveled to Turkey to regain something of what she had with Peter decades earlier — and failing that, she had befriended the boy," Vida writes. For both parties it is a poignant friendship, ripe with meaning. Its outcome defines Yvonne, past, present and future. The Lovers, slim and transportive, is an invitation to join Yvonne on her journey.