You know, they say that if you’re a writer, provoking a reaction from your critics, be it good or bad, is an achievement. I hope Diane Johnson, former Pulitzer and Booker Prize nominee and the author of Lulu in Marrakech feels the same way.
I’d heard so much about Johnson’s latest book, Lulu in Marrakech – a CIA-spy-love story set in Morocco - thatI had to read it. It got some good reviews but it also caused some fierce reactions from some noteworthy critics (including the New York Times, and the New York Times Book Review).
So What’s All the Fuss About?
Lulu in Marrakech deals with love, sex, infidelity, cultural clashes, American and Muslim stereotypes, spying, kidnapping and torture. You’ve all the ingredients for a backlash right there.
The long and short of the plot revolves around Lulu Sawyer, a young Californian CIA agent who enters the Maghreb realm of international espionage and terrorism kind of by accident.
She’s trying to ignite her love affair with Ian Drumm a wealthy Englishman in his villa in Marrakech. He introduces her to a whole host of interesting characters, add her addiction for googling the Western Sahara and a bit of overheard gossip to the potion, before you can say “Murder in the Medina” Lulu is in the midst of an undercover mission and a complicated love triangle.
I won’t ruin the book’s ending for you, but it’s quite the cataclysmic crescendo as Lulu, already shaken by the emergence of Ian’s lover, gets herself into a rather sticky spot. I felt a little shakey afterwards!
Lulu in Marrakech: A Tragic Love Story or Just a Tragic Novel?
Lulu in Marrakech certainly didn’t leave me with a bee in my bonnet in quite the same way as it enflamed a lot of its critics. Ok, so the plot was implausible, and yes, there were some insensitive remarks that bordered on stereotyping woven through Lulu’s narrative. I also felt her references to the Qur’an were a little misplaced.
Nevertheless, the novel did paint a fascinating picture of Marrakech through the eyes of a love-lorn foreigner and offered an interesting slant on cross-cultural divide.