Tangerine by Christine Mangan

It all began that day


Alice and Lucy were once best friends, students together at the expensive Bennington College in Vermont. Now Alice is in Tangier with her newish husband. He loves the life there, the seedy bars, the feeling of danger in the streets as Morocco demands its independence from its French colonisers. Alice hates it, scared to go out alone and miserable when she goes out with her overbearing and unsympathetic husband (mind you, he’s also pretty miserable at having to go out with the whining, pathetic Alice). Suddenly one day, out of the blue, Lucy turns up at their door. This is the first time Alice and Lucy have met since that day… but no, of course we don’t get told what happened that day. As Lucy and Alice take turns at the narration, carefully ensuring their voices are indistinguishable to add an element of confusion, they each dance round the subject of what happened that day while being very careful not to tell the poor put-upon reader.

I made it to the 25% mark before deciding I could take no more. I don’t want to be unfairly brutal – this is a début, and it shows some promise. Regulars will know that I’ve spluttered with annoyance often over the whole “that day” faux-suspense thing that seems to be an essential part of so-called thrillers these days – presumably because the authors can’t actually think of anything thrilling to write about. (FF’s Tenth Law: having the narrator constantly refer to ‘what happened that day’ without informing the reader of what did happen that day is far more likely to create book-hurling levels of irritation than a feeling of suspense.) So Mangan is merely following the herd, and sadly it’s a big herd, getting bigger by the day. I was sucked in by the great cover – had this had the ubiquitous girl in the red jacket on it I’d have known to avoid it like the plague.

Had it just been the “that day” tedium, I would probably have stuck with it, though. The picture Mangan gives of Tangier at this point in time (1956) is quite well done, bearing in mind that we see it solely through the eyes of white colonials. This means there are some rather demeaning depictions of the locals that smack a little of good old white superiority, but I felt that was appropriate to the time and social status of the main characters.

Over a year now, and it was still cast in a hazy fog that I could not seem to work my way out of, no matter how long I tripped through the labyrinth. It’s better that way, my aunt had said afterward, when I had told her about the vaporous sheen my memories had taken on, how I could no longer remember the details of that horrible night, of the days that followed. Leave it in the past, she had urged, as if my memories were objects that could be packed away in boxes secure enough to ensure they would never let loose the secrets held within.

Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t tolerate the style of writing. Some people have praised it, so I’ll admit that’s a subjective thing. It’s well-written in a grammatical sense, and thankfully it’s in the past tense, except for the obligatory foreshadowing prologue. But it’s written in a kind of mock-Gothic manner, all overwrought and hyperventilating, that gradually began to drive me insane. I had company in my insanity however – in true Gothic fashion, both women have strange “nervous” conditions that cause them to have imaginary symptoms and so on, and we know from the prologue that at least one of them has totally lost her marbles by the time the story ends. It was at the point that one of them actually fainted – Mangan resisted the temptation to say “swooned” but I bet it was on the tip of her pen – that I gave up. I discovered when I looked at her author bio that Mangan did her PhD on 18th century Gothic literature, and was unsurprised. Nor was I astonished to learn she had then topped that off with a degree in creative writing…

Christine Mangan

I didn’t hate it and I don’t think it’s awful. It’s as good as most of these identikit “that day” thrillers and better written than many. It probably deserves three or even four stars. But it’s not for me, and since I couldn’t bring myself to continue reading, then I’m afraid one star it is. Oddly, I’ll still be intrigued to see how Mangan develops – if she can learn to match her style to her subject matter and free herself from the feeling that she must follow the herd, I feel she has the talent to evolve into an interesting writer. I wish her well in the attempt.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group.

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50 thoughts on “Tangerine by Christine Mangan

  1. Oh, as soon as I saw your emoji at the top, FictionFan, I had a sense of what you might have thought of this book. And once you started talking of ‘that day,’ I knew. I have to admit I get tired of that setup, as well. I don’t like that contrived suspense; I really don’t. At least it wasn’t all in the present tense… And I do like the setting. I don’t think I’ll be reading this one, but that part, I must say, did interest me.

    • I’m so tired of the whole “that day” thing – it’s been done to death. Pity, because I did get the feeling she’s capable of writing something much more original – her Tangier was done very well. Hopefully she’ll break free of the herd in her next outing! 🙂

  2. This made me laugh FictionFan! I’m teetering on the edge of ‘That Day’ fatigue myself.. It always seems to be a bit of a let-down when the that fateful day is eventually revealed in all its glory.

    • Haha – I felt a bit mean since it’s a debut, but I really can’t take any more of the “that day” stuff! Yeah, after 400 pages of build-up it’d have to be something pretty spectacular, and it so rarely is… 😉

  3. How I love these one-star reviews of yours, FF!! I laughed until tears arrived, particularly at the Gothic tones, the swooning, the mysterious ‘that day’ references, and the obligatory unsympathetic husband amid a new locale. This one wouldn’t be for me either and frankly, I’m a bit surprised you endured 25 percent of it. Oh, and one of my pet peeves is an author photo that’s obviously a selfie — surely this poor girl has a friend who could’ve snapped her picture! (Now I’ll hop off my soapbox withdrawing my catty claws as I slink away!)

    • Haha – I felt a bit mean since it was a debut, but I’m so fed up with the “that day” style of storytelling and the Gothic hyperventilating didn’t help! 😉 Ha – yes, I didn’t look carefully at the author pic, but I see what you mean. I’m sure she has lots of potential for the future though – it’ll be interesting to see how her writing develops…

  4. Ah I did like the cover of this book and very nearly requested it (more than once) and while I probably have a far higher tolerance for ‘that day’ I think I’d struggle with the writing style.
    Loved your review though 😂

    • Haha – thank you! I felt a bit mean since it’s a debut but this “that day” business is driving me crazy!! I still think it’s a great cover and to be fair loads of people have praised the writing style, but I couldn’t stop feeling it should all be happening in a spooky old castle sometime in the 18th century! 😉

  5. That day….
    ….I left a comment on your blog.
    It was the beginning of the end for me. *insert dramatic drum roll*

    I don’t think I would have lasted even to the 25% mark, so good for you.

    • Hahaha! But there should have been 400 pages between your first and second lines… 😉

      Yes, I kept hoping they might tell me what happened that day but eventually I realised I didn’t care any more!

      • I do my very best to fail hard as a writer 😉

        Thankfully I’ve only come across that plot device once or twice, because it annoys the heck out of me too. Even more than when Poirot with holds information from the reader in one of his mysteries…

  6. And see, I like ‘that day’ – mostly. I agree that it’s a ‘to each her own’ thing. As I said in another post, I just can’t stand when they are TSTL or when they actively try to impede the police or don’t tell them things. In any case, I too loved the cover and I’ll probably read it at some point. Who knows? Right now, I am enjoying discovering audios at my library for books that were popular months ago. The hold lists have dwindled and I’m happily making my way through them – for free! It’s lovely. Have a good weekend!

    • Oh, I know a lot of people love this kind of thriller, Kay, otherwise publishers wouldn’t keep publishing them! But I’ve read far too many of them now and am finding the oldies are working much better for me overall. But as you say, we all have our own things that bug us… The cover is great and I hope it turns up in your library soon – it’s been out for a couple of months now , I think. Enjoy! 😀

  7. An popular Australian author whose name I won’t mention writes stupid ‘that day’ stories too, and I’m over them. Sorry to hear about this one, because the time and setting sound interesting.

  8. Absolutely loved your review, FF, and the characterization, “create book-hurling levels of irritation than a feeling of suspense” was perfect. You really have a way with words…maybe you should be writing instead of reading!

    • I’m sorry to have put you off but yeah, I think there are much better books out there, and other thrillers that are more likely to tempt non-thriller fans! Thanks for popping by and commenting. 😀

    • Haha – I think the “vaporous sheen” was the finishing touch for me – that and the fainting! She does have talent though – I’m sure she’ll get over the creative-writing hangover soon… 😀

  9. I *almost * didn’t read your review since this is one is on my TBR but the first part made me laugh. I think I’ll push this one back since I could read a fantastic suspenseful Gothic classic instead. 😆😂

    • Hahaha – sorry! I hate to put people off books, but I think real Gothic sounds much more fun! Have you started Tess yet, BTW? I’m getting nowhere – I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for listening to audiobooks at the moment, so I’m thinking of moving on to the written word…

      • It just makes me change the reading priority. I have a ton of books to pick from so it’s fine. I’ll get to it eventually. I haven’t started Tess yet…maybe we can try for September?

        • Since I’ve already started it I’ll probably keep going wither with the audio or the print version, but at the rate I’m going I’ll still be reading it in September! 😉

          • 😉 I just remembered I was going to be reading Little Dorrit as a Dickens readalong over on Instagram. I’d really enjoy discussing Tess so I don’t want to push it aside if that’s the plan. 😳 Have you gotten pretty far? I’ve never read any Hardy so I’m really curious about this one

            • No, I’ve probably only listened to about 15% or so, so far. But I always find it hard to co-ordinate reading schedules – we all have so many commitments and read at different speeds and so on. Even if you read it a bit later, it’ll still be fresh enough in my mind to discuss it as you go along, so go ahead with Little Dorrit! I’m planning to read it over Christmas this year – Dickens is always my Christmas treat. 😀

  10. Bummer! I’ve heard such great things about this book, and I do think that I’ll read it at some point. But I’m not going to race out and buy it.
    I understand your frustration about the “that day” plot. I had the same issue with Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty. So much is mentioned/hinted of “that day” that when the reader finally discovers what happened, it just didn’t live up to all the buildup.

    • Oh, yes! Truly, Madly, Guilty drove me mad! Every single character kept referring to “that day” and all in such stilted ways so they didn’t accidentally tell us what! Grrr! Lucky I wasn’t there with an axe or it would have turned into a serial-killer gore-fest… 😉

  11. Why in the world didn’t she set the novel during the time period she knows best?? So weird! Spend all that time learning about something just to try a hand at something else.

    Some part of me noticed that all the thriller novels were starting to sound the same, but I hadn’t noticed it was the case of “that day” until you pointed it out in one of your recent posts. You’re spot on. I’m also tired of reading about thrillers with girls who randomly went missing. Talk about a nouveau manic Pixie girl obsession.

    • Yep, I’d have read the Gothic-style writing quite happily if it had been a Gothic setting!

      It’s the bandwagon effect – one book has a great success (Gone Girl!) and for the next five years every book follows the same pattern. But of course the reason the first book was so successful is because it was original…

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