The Blue Hour by Douglas Kennedy
As a young girl, my inclination toward reading developed as a way for me to get out of whatever space I physically and mentally inhabited; I've never been a huge fan of crowds, noisy places and loud voices but, while reading, I can tune all of that out and focus on a completely different world. The more this environment differs from my own, the more deeply entrenched I seem to become, and that feeling of being swept away is delightful. Other than it being described as "completely absorbing and atmospheric" and one of the "best books about Morocco," I didn't know a lot about The Blue Hour; since I love being transported to other countries, cultures and environments through reading, I thought I'd give it a try.
The story begins somewhat predictably: Robin, an accountant who has just hit the big 4-0, is married to Paul, a hipster artist who is 18 years her senior; she loves that he's completely ruled by his creative tendencies...until she doesn't. These things rarely work out, even in the movies, because no accountant can handle being around a flighty creative type who can't seem to get their life organized.
So, the first impression I had of Paul Leuen was someone who - unlike the rest of us members of the workaday world - had somehow managed to avoid all the pitfalls of routine life. And I had always wanted to fall in love with an artist. We are often attracted to that which runs contrary to our nature.
Paul receives an offer to travel to Morocco and, in an effort to rekindle their relationship, Robin decides to tag along. She lines things up at work and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime; those of you who have traveled to foreign countries know that these adventures rarely pass without a few wild rides, and I was highly entertained by the vivid descriptions of their travels.
As we drove off we ran into a small flotilla of geese and chickens, herded alongside the city walls by a man in a white djellaba and skullcap. The driver honked his horn in a short, nonchalant manner, indicating that the shepherd should get his livestock out of the way. Nearby was a man wheeling a barrel filled with unrefined cotton. And - this was hallucinatory - a fellow sitting in front of a basket, intoning a tune on a reedy instrument as a python ascended upward from the straw hoop.
Just as I began to fear that this was going to be a beautifully-written, yet somewhat boring, tale...Paul goes missing. I'm not going to share any spoilers, other than to say that this event marks the beginning of a completely different narrative and journey for Robin which is dangerous, ridiculous, scary and questionable. It's no secret that I enjoy flawed, broken characters, but this was a little over the top for me and wandered into some strange combination of romance/suspense territory.
Regardless of whether you enjoy the story line, I have to say that it was (mostly) worth reading for the scenery; I've never traveled to Morocco, but Kennedy had me dreaming. I could hear the noises along the street, smell the sidewalk vendors and see the locals as clearly as if I were in front of all of them.
The lawn-mower chop of motorbikes and scooters, their drivers beeping manically as they negotiated the dirt-surfaced potholed terrain, dodging stands piled high with van Gogh-ish oranges and mangoes, and vegetable stalls where the tomatoes were primary in their redness.
It didn't take me long to finish this one and I found that Kennedy shares plenty of life lessons via his struggling heroine. I might not suggest this one for a book club read (due to mentions/descriptions of sexual violence that may be tough for some) but, when it's windy and cold and wet outside, a trip to Morocco might be just the thing you need.
The greatest impediment we all have in life is our very own self.