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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is not a travel guide, 3 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Tea at the Grand Tazi (Paperback)
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Don't read this if you're planning to go to Marrakesh. But if you've ever been, you might enjoy this short novel more than someone who hasn't. Though "enjoy" might not be the right word.

Maia is a young artist who flees from London to Marrakesh to make a new start after a love affair gone wrong. She hopes to revitalize her painting and herself.

From the first paragraph we can see that she is consumed with questions about gender politics and sexual politics. A feminist flag is clearly nailed to the mast. In going to Marrakesh she hopes to be able to paint the women there in a way that allows her to explore these issues, and herself

Her new employer in this strange city introduces her to his friends and acquaintances, a dissolute bunch who hang around the Grand Tazi Hotel, which has seen better days. This is the story of what happens to her.

Most reviewers have been quite negative about the qualities of this book. It is true that Maia finds the place and the culture intimidating, and her observations reflect her negative view of this world. Everywhere and everyone is a threat, and events prove her to be correct rather than paranoid. But how much of her situation is of her own making?

The writing has a certain poetic quality, with its somewhat fragmented unfolding. In some ways it reminded me of Knut Hamsun's "The Hunger" and Dan Simmons' "The Song Of Kali", both stories being somewhat hallucinatory nightmares about alienation.

The Marrakesh of this tale is a place I recognize from my own experiences there, though we never went to the Grand Tazi (check it out on tripadviser.co.uk. She didn't make it up. 2/5 average from 103 reviews at the time of writing) There can be an alien and alienating aspect to it for a Western visitor. Maybe this was part of its fascination for me..

But Maia is repulsed rather than fascinated, and she is not treated well by her new-found manipulative friends. Indeed, they subject her to life-diminishing cruelties for their own ends, treating her as a fool for getting herself into this spiders' web.

Maia is not written as a person easy to sympathise with. The reader may admire her feminist and artistic concerns or find her annoying and self-absorbed. The writing is somewhat uneven and repetitious in places. OK it may be crafted to represent an unsettled and uneasy view of the world, but it makes it difficult for the reader to engage with this cast of unsympathetic characters.

In the final chapter she suddenly breaks free and returns to London and to some artistic acclaim. She even manages to return to Marrakesh and finds it changed. This feels very rushed and somewhat unconvincing.

So, not a book to read before going to Marrakesh. But perhaps an interesting curiosity if you've been there.
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