19 February 2016 | Adult Fiction

The diver’s clothes lie empty – book review

The diver's clothes lie empty

This is the first time I’ve read a novel written in second person. I’ve read a couple of short stories written this way, and I’ve attempted to write one myself and failed miserably. The tutor in my online short story class and several of the other students told me it just didn’t work.

Cate Kennedy wrote a fabulous short story, ‘Dark roots’ in her short story collection of the same name about a woman who started seeing a much younger man.

For a while now, you’ve avoided looking at yourself in the full-length mirror in the bathroom by neglecting to put the ventilation fan on. You hurry to dry yourself and get out of there before the mirror unsteams. Life, if we hold it up to the light, contains many of these foolish rituals. Like the one you notice lately where you always turn off the bedside lamp before you slide into bed with him, and the way you don’t wear your glasses at the movies.

Danielle Wood wrote the prologue ‘The good mother’ in her Mothers Grimm in second person.

So your partner moves out, just as your maternity leave expires. Your plan had been to go back to work part-time, but now that you’re a single mother you have to work full-time to afford childcare for two kids. The economics of this confuse you, but you’re too busy thinking about how you’re going to manage to worry about that as well.¬†

Danielle told me in one of her writing classes that the secret to writing in second person was to make sure you were saying something specific to a specific someone.

It makes sense, doesn’t it, because often in conversation we use second person. ‘So you know how easy it is to forget where you put your keys? If you’re driving the other car and you don’t put the keys in the door pocket when you strap the kids in? Or if you’re wearing clothes with no pockets? That’s when it happens to you – you forget where you put your keys.’

Even though it’s not often used in novels, it’s still a familiar kind of ¬†voice. Or maybe it’s just me, talking to myself!

The diver’s clothes lie empty by Vendela Vida is a novel written completely in second person. It’s about a young woman who is travelling by herself and has her passport, money and identification stolen as soon as she arrives at her hotel in Casablanca. This is the catalyst for a series of events which take her further and further away from her life as she knew it.

I couldn’t help but like the main character, even though I wanted to yell at her for being so gullible. A perfect character – flawed and loveable.

The writing style drew me in, deep into her day-to-day dramas living without identification in a foreign country and also deep into her past which is gradually revealed.

You are picturing yourself at seventy, looking back on your youth. You will remember that you were young once, that you were thirty-three. You were in a movie in Casablanca. Now that you are on the cusp of being a full-fledged adult, as you now see adulthood, your youth has been documented. Your youth will be defined by the events of the last several months.

If you are looking for something different to read, then this book might be for you.

Read any other short stories or novels written in second person? Does this style appeal to you?

Thank you, SP, for this Christmas present – great choice!

In conversation with Hanya Yanagihara



Excellent news … tried to write a comment in the 2nd person but just too hard

February 19, 2016 at 8:12 am


I’m sure I would like this book.

February 19, 2016 at 9:05 am


You know, I’d never really thought about writing in the second person even though I’ve read both Dark Roots and Mothers Grimm (that was such a touching story in Dark Roots, wasn’t it?). It’s interesting to hear of an entire novel being written that way. I think it would require a lot of focus, as an author, to sustain that perspective. Side note – Dark Roots is one of my daughter’s lit texts this year!

February 19, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Nicole Melanson

My WIP is in second person. I love it. I find first and third much harder to write! I will have to check this book out. I have another one of hers (mind has totally gone blank) but haven’t heard of this one before.

February 19, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Leigh Roswen

You thank Karen for telling you about ‘Dark Roots’ as second person fascinates you. You will read and learn. However you think a reading a whole novel maybe taxing and even writing a comment has you feeling like a confused Yoda.

February 22, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Karen Comer

    You read Leigh’s comment with pleasure. You feel a bit like a confused Yoda yourself, but you want to communicate that ‘The diver’s clothes lie empty’ is a compelling read, regardless of writing style!

    February 22, 2016 at 11:44 am

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