Title: Lulu in Marrakech
Author: Diane Johnson
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
From the dust jacket:
Lulu Sawyer, the heroine of Diane Johnson’s captivating new novel, arrives in Marrakech, Morocco hoping to rekindle her romance with a worldly Englishman, Ian Drumm. It’s the perfect cover for her assignment with the American CIA: tracing the flow of money from well-heeled donors to radical Islamic groups. While spending her days poolside among Europeans, in villas staffed by local maids in abayas and her nights at lively dinner parties, Lulu observes the fragile coexistence of two cultures that, if not clashing yet, have begun to show signs of fracture. Beneath the surface of this polite expatriate community lies a more sinister world laced not only with double standards, but double agents.
When I first heard about Lulu in Marrakech, I was ambivalent. I thought the premise sounded really interesting, but I was afraid of the treatment that Lulu was going to get. Was it just going to be an airhead of a girl Legally Blonde-ing her way through Morocco? Was she going to stumble upon some sinister plot while wearing her designer bathing suit and sipping fruity drinks by the pool?
Thankfully, Lulu is intelligent and resourceful. She doesn’t bumble her way through the novel; instead she does her best to make important contacts and ask inconspicuous questions of everyone around her. That being said, she is a normal girl without extraordinary spying skills; her role is more observing than anything else, and she does it well.
Those of you who are familiar with Diane Johnson might look at my genre categorization and say “this is the author of Le Divorce, and you’re characterizing this as contemporary fiction instead of chick lit?” Yes, and I stand by it. There is a search for love in this book, but it takes a backseat to everything else that is going on. More than anything else, this book is about women. There’s Gazi, a Saudi woman who is living in an oppressive marriage and Suma, a French Muslim woman who has fled to Morocco after her brother accused her of losing her virginity and threatened to kill her. Lulu often speculates on the treatment of women in Islamic countries in Lulu in Marrakech. She says that the culture might have its areas of beauty and renown, but as long as women are treated so poorly, she can’t see it. Most of us are aware of the poor treatment of women in many Muslim countries. Seeing it through Lulu’s eyes is extremely interesting, especially as she gains the trust of those around her.
The CIA part of the plot is a bit convoluted and insubstantial, but Lulu’s experiences and the situations she finds herself in the middle of are worth reading. I believe Johnson wrote this novel in order to discuss women in different countries and cultures, and she does a great job. I’d definitely recommend Lulu in Marrakech to anyone who is interested in reading about a woman’s plight in a Muslim country, but wants to avoid the heartbreaking and depressing first person accounts.