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Set In 1950s Morocco, 'Tangerine' Is A Dark Tale Of Twisted Love

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A dark tale of twisted love in a foreign land. The book "Tangerine" recalls films by Hitchcock and stories like "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Set in the 1950s during the waning days of French rule in Morocco, the plot centers around a vulnerable heiress, her ne'er-do-well husband and an old college friend with many secrets. Joining us now to talk about it is the author, Christine Mangan. This is her debut novel. Welcome to the program.

CHRISTINE MANGAN: Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So take us to Tangier in 1956. The main character is Alice Shipley, and she's moved to Morocco with her husband. She rashly married him, but she doesn't like it there.

MANGAN: No, she finds herself quite at odds with the city. It's one of the things that I find most interesting about Tangier - is that it does seem to kind of inspire these very strong reactions from people. You either kind of love it or you react like Alice does, where she finds it essentially too overwhelming and too chaotic and tries to kind of close the door between herself and the city.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And her old college roommate shows up, and her name is Lucy Mason. Who is she?

MANGAN: Lucy is someone who Alice used to be quite close to, who she had a very strong and complicated relationship with. And all of that is kind of brought, too, to the center once again when they are reunited.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you've written this book sort of alternating between the two perspectives of the female characters. Why did you want them both to drive the narrative?

MANGAN: One of the things that I considered when I was writing it was, essentially, Jane Eyre is what came up time and time again in my mind. I had just finished working on my Ph.D., which focused on Gothic literature. And I was always really fascinated with the relationship of Jane and Bertha Mason, who is the madwoman in the attic, and this idea that she is the unrepressed, unfiltered side. When Jane has doubts about her upcoming marriage to Rochester, it's Bertha who tears up the wedding veil. And so I wanted to kind of explore similar ideas with Lucy and Alice - this idea that, you know, when we first meet Alice, she's unhappy with her life in Tangier. She is unhappy with her marriage, but she's not able to really acknowledge that or to voice that. And it takes Lucy showing up to kind of get her to face up to that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The book is called "Tangerine." Explain what that is.

MANGAN: Tangerine actually refers to a expat who lives in Tangier. That is what the locals actually refer to them as. There's a conversation in the book that Lucy has with one of the locals. And he says to her at one point, you know, you're a tangerine now. The city is yours. And when I was there someone had said something quite similar, and that just had really kind of stuck with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you not choose to explore some of the interior life of the Moroccan characters in the book or to talk about the country itself and its struggles? Your characters here, ululating women - they shop in the busy souk. But the only Moroccan character is a petty thief, and we never really get to know them.

MANGAN: Yeah, I've wanted it to be, in some ways, about being an outsider. And these two women are outsiders to this place. And I wanted to focus on the different ways that they react to it and the way that they succeed or they fail and the way that they try to make this place their home. For Alice, that's especially what she struggles with - the fact that that she feels so kind of alone and cut off in this place that she just can't quite manage to figure out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you set it in the 1950s?

MANGAN: Well, I was drawn to the time period for a number of reasons. Initially, it was just because, you know, when people do think of Tangier and this romanticized past, that tends to be the era that they think of. We have all these different artists and writers passing through the city at that time. In the 1950s, we have Morocco and Tangier moving towards independence.

So there is this kind of revolutionary spirit that's sweeping through the country. And I thought that was something that would really resonate with the characters of Alice and Lucy because they are themselves struggling with identity and autonomy made even more difficult because they are women in the 1950s. And so I thought all of that would essentially heighten the tension when used as the backdrop against this already quite fraught relationship that we're introduced to right from the start.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christine Mangan is the author of "Tangerine." Thank you so much for joining me.

MANGAN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.