Morocco has been to known to serve as many an author’s inspiration and striking mise en scène. Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky and Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Leaving Tangier both portray the sweltering sensuality of a city that is as mysterious as it is alluring. In her debut novel Tangerine, Christine Mangan portrays the story of two school friends separated by time and by a secret that both would rather forget. Alice finds solace albeit little happiness in Morocco with her husband John, where she is intimidated by the noises, the busy markets, and the exotic inhabitants of Tangier doing nothing to subdue her often fragile state of mind.
But her life is destined to change when Lucy, whom she hasn’t seen since a terrible night many years ago, suddenly appears at her doorstep. After initial resistance, Alice finds herself succumbing to her memories and good times with Lucy. However, something isn’t quite right in the power balance between the two women. Lucy is too demanding, too controlling, too cunning. Alice soon begins to see that allowing Lucy into her life again may be the biggest and most fatal mistake she’s ever made.
Mangan said that she definitely felt inspired by 18th century Gothic literature, which was also her inspiration for Tangerine:
“I’ve always loved novels that happen to fall under the ‘gothic’ heading—Daphne du Maurier, Louisa May Alcott, Shirley Jackson—so when I started to think about doing a PhD, I did a bit of preliminary research on the existing scholarship and was really fascinated by what I found. The notion that authors used the Gothic as a way of subversively mentioning the unmentionable was something that really intrigued me. As to the reason for focusing on the eighteenth century in particular, it was because I decided to examine a group of texts—known collectively as the Northanger Horrid novels—that up to that point had very little written about them.”
She additionally gave insight as to what inspired Tangerine and why Morocco was the background of choice for the novel.
When did you first know you wanted to write a novel?
I have always loved writing, ever since I was young. Over the years I have made various attempt to write a novel—but I would always start and stop, for one reason or another. I earned my BA and MFA in Fiction Writing, but even then, I was never able to complete anything. I think perhaps I just hadn’t found the right story yet.
What was the initial inspiration behind Tangerine?
Tangier. I visited in the spring of 2015 and was completely fascinated by the city. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times now. It’s such an interesting city, one that is so different to any other place that I have ever been. While I was there I started to sketch out ideas and several months later, when I was back in the States, I started to write what would become Tangerine. When I was writing it, I really wanted to make sure that the city had just as strong a presence as the other characters, because it really is a place that is startlingly, uniquely its own.
The friendship between Alice and Lucy is strained from the beginning; we can see something happened between them in the past. Why would Alice even let her in her home when Lucy arrives in Tangier?
I think that Lucy is someone that Alice can’t say no to—there is something about her, about their friendship, that is strong enough to push aside any threats or alarm bells that should be sounding.
The story is told from both Alice and Lucy’s point of view. Which one proved more challenging?
Lucy came quite easily, but Alice was definitely more of a challenge. Alice is someone who reacts and responds to other characters, rather than really instigating any movement or change herself.
As the story moves forward, it’s evident that one of them is dangerous. Does it boil down to who is more clever and shrewd?
Perhaps, though I do think they’re both clever in their own way—I think that one of them is just willing to go beyond the line in order to get what she wants.
Would you say Tangerine is a dark thriller or a novel about friendships gone wrong?
I would say it’s a novel about friendship gone wrong, rather than a thriller. I think that anyone who approaches Tangerine as a thriller might be a bit disappointed, because it really doesn’t adhere to the traditional elements of a thriller.
Avoiding spoilers, the ending is quite gut-wrenching. Do you think readers will find it in a way unfair towards one of the characters? Is there hope for justice?
I don’t know; I’m always quite surprised by how strongly readers react to the ending. In my mind, there really wasn’t ever any other way the story could end!
What future projects are you working on? Can we expect a second novel soon?
I have a few ideas circulating at the moment, but I haven’t yet settled on any one in particular!