April 27, 2016

The Blue Hour - Douglas Kennedy

Atria Books, February 16, 2016.

Three Stars

Robin is a cautious, thoughtful accountant in her late thirties, living a quiet life. When she meets an older man – the wild, carefree artist Paul – all of her careful life plans fall apart. She falls in love, gets married, and learns to take risks – such as a spontaneous trip to Morocco for the summer, planned by her new husband. The trip seems incredibly romantic at first, but nothing Paul tells Robin is actually as it seems.

Paul and Robin both have complicated romantic histories. Robin was married once before, and the relationship failed for various reasons, but especially because of Robin’s desire for children. Paul, twenty years her senior, has his own mysterious past, including time spent in Morocco, studying art. Robin thinks she knows everything about her husband, who seems at first to be an open book, but when they arrive at the North African coast, their relationship changes.

At first, Robin is reluctant to abandon her structured lifestyle, but she quickly adapts to the freedoms of an exotic new locale. The details of the Moroccan setting are richly described, with the juxtaposition between medieval and modern worlds creating a lush sense of intrigue. The new couple relax into the idyllic setting, with plans to try for a child. However, although everything seems amicable and loving between the two, small red flags start to pop up. Robin continues to see the best in Paul until she receives irrefutable evidence of his betrayal – proof that he has had a vasectomy, in spite of their shared plans to have a baby.

After a vicious argument, Paul disappears, and Robin becomes the prime suspect. To clear her name, Robin takes matters into her own hands, embarking on a risky investigation into Paul’s current situation, as well as his shady past. The novel moves suddenly from an oddly sweet love story to a thrilling adventure across the landscape of Morocco – from the corruption of the city to the barren desert.

It’s clear that Kennedy has spent time in Morocco, and has an affinity for its people and places. The country is not just incidental to the setting, but it becomes a part of the story, as Robin searches endlessly, following the twists and turns of Paul’s journey. The Moroccan people are fully realized as well, showcasing many different facets of society. The setting is vivid and filled with the passion of its long history, from Casablanca to the desert Bedouins.

Robin is a strong female character who never gives up – but her perseverance is almost too much. She doesn’t let go of finding Paul, despite the shocking things she learns about his past, and her seeming lack of self-respect started to lose my sympathy after a while. She is also involved in one particularly brutal act of sexual violence, which I didn’t think was necessary to further the story. In spite of all the thrilling twists, I never guessed what would happen next, making this a complex mystery. After one too many melodramatic incidents, I began to lose interest in Robin’s pursuit – but I still finished the novel, finding it exciting and enjoyable.

I received this novel from Atria Books and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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