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VINE VOICEon 7 February 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found myself intensely involved with this unusual novel- the act of reading it for me was like embarking upon a magical mystery tour or falling down a rabbit hole. The story itself is familiar enough - a young woman artist, disappointed by love and her career takes up a vague appointment in Morocco for a character called The Historian. She is neglected there and is in a place where she experiences misogyny. She falls prey to neediness and gratitude for scraps of attention and becomes a conduit for bad energies. I was horrified by the later turn of events, especially as I identified with certain aspects of Maia - the feistiness and vulnerability, the backbiting from other women and when I was younger the neediness. I was equally relieved at Maia's final ability to draw upon her own strength to help herself out of a tight fix. Another aspect of my identification with the central character was her painting as at around the same period of my life I was involved in the creative arts.

I am full of admiration for Alexandra Singer for writing this book having survived a long coma and a near fatal neurological illness. I have a sense however, that the illness may have given her an enviable tap-line into the creative unconscious. If I can try to explain: the viewpoint of the narration seems like that of a dream. I used to be an avid recorder of my dreams which is perhaps why I have picked up this. For example, in one scene Maia drunkenly lunges at Cassandra but the other men present are too 'transfixed' to attempt to stop her. Armand puts his arm around Cassandra but is silent, 'alternately gazing at Maia and examining his fingernails.' For me, it is this type of precise yet seemingly random description that gives one the feeling of hyper-reality. You feel that you are present and watching through a camera. This seems quite aptly, hallucinatory at points and time is stretched and shrunk - minutes can last several pages and weeks can pass by in a single line.

I am very excited by the dream-type language of Tea at the Grand Tazi. I have never read a book quite like it. The narrative technique had the ultimate effect for me of identifying strongly with Maia on both an unconscious level and in terms of my younger self. I recommend it wholeheartedly to other readers. I think you will get as involved with this story as I did.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Maia travels to Morocco to find somewhere to paint and to escape a relationship which has gone sour - we never get the full details about this but it involves lies and betrayal. When she is there she will live in the country and experience its environment and she will mix almost completely with an ex-pat community.

This author has nothing good to say about Morocco. She describes it totally in words of disgust - she describes the stench, the scenes of cruelty and death of animals, the boys that follow her and pester her for money, the men who stare at her and who make unsavoury advances to her in the street, and the frequently crippled and disfigured people. When describing the people she uses words like "smirk" and "sneer" a lot and she is very dismissive of their "subservient" religion. When she once gets to meet a normal family in their home it does not turn out well at all and she and her companions are fortunate to escape without real harm coming to them. Every description of the local people and the city carries with it an air of menace. Maia wants to paint the local women but can only do this by glimpses of them and memories as none of them wishes to pose for her - she paints them faceless.

The ex-pat community are described as totally decedent and degraded. They are, without exception, horrible people who drink and take drugs and party in rooms and premises which are all run down, especially the Grand Tazi hotel. The Historian who Maia has come to work with is critical of her painting and refuses to help her when she needs it. Her lover takes pleasure in degrading her. Other ex-pats laugh at her and tell stories about the death and depravity of others. The white men are in control of everything, including Maia, it transpires during the novel. The author seems to regard the gay men who have travelled to Morocco as part of the general depravity of the city.

Instead of shying away from these awful people or escaping the disgusting surroundings Maia seems to revel in it. She seeks out the people she condemns in her mind, she goes to meals and parties with people she doesn't like, she drinks too much and does everything she can to make herself vulnerable, and she remains with a man who she knows is harming her. At the very end of the book she intimates that she has enjoyed the humiliation and degregation she has experienced at their hands.

I have no idea what this book was intended to be about. The author doesn't explain what there is about Morocco or about Maia that makes her act in this way. There are some exchanges about the place of women in the society but these do not make a coherent argument for anything and are completely undermined by Maia's realisation that she is making money from the exploitation of women in her paintings but that it's all right because someone else would only do it anyway. If the author wants to show us that white men have power in this world then she does. The only thing we learn about Maia is that she appears as a victim to men who abuse her and that she acts like a victim at virtually every point of the book - there is no overall message about women except that they are treated badly by men and that some of them collude in this. There is no positive message about Morocco at all except to encourage the reader to keep well away from it.

There are no positives in this book. It contains no pleasant people or scenes. The book is mainly about depravity, degregation and humiliation. I could not engage with Maia at all and I didn't care at all what happened to her or why.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was drawn to this book by the vivid colours of the cover and by the setting of the story, in which a young woman goes to Morocco.

Initially, I found it hard to get into, and while it did pick up a bit and become more interesting, nearly everyone was very unpleasant. Maia herself is naive and lacks insight, rather worryingly for someone with artistic ambitions. I thought the portrayal of Moroccans had rather racist overtones, although most of the Western expats were quite obnoxious. Gay/lesbian sexuality seemed to be equated with corruption.

Although I didn't like this much, I would be curious to see what the author writes next, perhaps with a stricter editor and less purple prose.
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on 2 December 2012
This book is full of inconsistencies, unexplained events and unbelievable characters. It does not read well and it does not flow. The characters contradict themselves and the plot is fairly non existent. I am unsure why I finished reading it, but when I did I fully expected (but was not really looking forward to) another couple of chapters explaining what had just happened.

The most positive thing i can say about this book is that It has warned me off cheap kindle book purchases.
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on 7 February 2013
Maia, an artist as yet unknown, takes a job in Morocco as assistant to a renowned historian, now past his best. She meets numerous ex-pats at the Grand Tazi, a hotel of very faded grandeur, whose owner cultivates "characters". Not one of them is likeable, nor is Maia herself. The scenes in Marakech are well described, as are Maia's paintings, but nothing much happens. What little does is tedious and dreary. I was glad when I got to the end.
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on 12 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A prime example of overwrought, overly complex, show-off writing. I'm sure that terms such as 'languid', 'dreamy' and 'poetic' will be used to describe this work, but to me it's just 'try-hard' and a bit cringey. Having said that, in both style and content it reminded me of the classic The Sheltering Sky (which I don't like either), so if you're a fan of that novel, as so many are, then this might suit you too.
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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2015
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I picked this novel as I've visited Marrakech and I thought it looked like an interesting read. Sadly it wasn't for me at all, far too laboured and convoluted.
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VINE VOICEon 8 March 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this debut novel, set in Morocco, I had hoped to find some promise of talent. The writing is shallow and in places banal. The plot is feeble, lacking depth and logic and races to a finish without even lip service to probability. What little dialogue there is, is stilted. The characters are poorly-coloured cardboard cut-outs without any believable facets and certainly I could not raise any sympathy for any of them.

I know Morocco well but I would never have recognised it from the narrative prose here. I wonder if Ms Singer has actually ever been to the country, and if she has, if she ever strayed from the hotel complex. There is nothing of the exoticism of Africa or the beauty of the country although the author does not stint herself in making disparaging comments about the people, the environment and their way of life. I grew tired of reading about what she calls the stench of fermented Arabic coffee and the, 'awful little hills', of Tangiers. Unjustified as my interpretation might be, it smacks of racism. One can find the sordid and the ugly anywhere in the world, if one seeks it out; Ms Singer's writing suggests that somehow London is far 'nicer' and safer than Moroccan cities. That depend with whom one mixes, surely.

I don't enjoy prodding the beach rubble, which is what this book is all about. Not for me, thank you.
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on 14 May 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Alexandra Singer's first novel is almost put into the shade by her own personal story. Having spent three months in a coma due to a near terminal illness, for her to write this book is a tale worth telling in its own right. However, this is the tale she has put to paper and it is the story of Maia and the ex-pats she meets in Morocco, who all gather at The Grand Tazi - an old hotel. The descriptions of Morocco are truly first rate, you could almost shut your eyes and be there. The lead character however, took me a little longer to identify with, being neither bold in her actions nor seeming to learn from the experiences she has along the way. The ending may not be what you would expect, but in a way it suits the style of the story and I certainly enjoyed taking a journey through its pages.
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on 3 August 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I couldn't really get into this book but I read it to the end as it is not too long. It's a story of an artist called Maia who is given the opportunity to work for an historian as an assistant in Morrocco and paint in her free time. Throughout the book Maia goes on rather a lot about how awful the men in Morrocco are towards women and how repressed the women are and also how she would like to paint women, preferably naked. Maia seems to have very little will power and gets involved a little too easily in drug-taking amongst other things.
I thought the book seemed to lack reality; I've never actually been to Morrocco but I'm sure it's not really full of frustrated gay men pretending to be straight everywhere you look which is implied in the story.
All in all the bool lacks substance.
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