The Blue Hour
Douglas Kennedy
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Buy *The Blue Hour* by Douglas Kennedyonline

The Blue Hour
Douglas Kennedy
Atria Books
368 pages
February 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Blue Hour.

In a story where fate is bound up by the music of chance, a random choice impulsively made brings American artist Paul Leuen and his accountant wife, Robin, to Casablanca, ostensibly to resolve their deep-seated marital issues--or at least delay having to face them. “I wonder: is this all a mistake?” says Paul as the couple land in Morocco on a journey that is Paul’s idea of a surprise, a trip that he sprang on Robin just two weeks after he had cleared a significant portion of his debts. Paul and Robin consider themselves sophisticated and wear their Western confidence as a sort of talisman in a cultural landscape of troubling strangeness. Although Paul lived in Morocco several years earlier, he formed few friends outside of a Franco-Moroccan artist named Romain Ben Hassan. The couple are simply unaware of the elemental vastness of a country that will care nothing for their conceits. Instinct screams at Paul to go home, telling him that he’s a “liability,” while Robin has only recently been made aware of the extent of her husband’s debts. Although she’s been able to forgive him, her love has also muddled the clarity of her vision.

Under the white hot North African sun, amid the heat, dust, and gasoline fumes, the couple travel to the town of Essaouria. There they spend lazy days drinking the local mint tea; at night, they look down and marvel at the North African-style urban sprawl where the heat curdles. Their hotel seems like a darkened enclave “awash with the crystalline sun.” Both are seduced by the absolute wild originality of the place, “the near-cartographic clarity” which increases this immediate, all-encompassing desire they have for each other. While Robin takes French lessons with a teacher at the local school, secretly hoping that a baby will come, Paul draws a series of extraordinary sketches, flashing his wife seductive smiles and telling her that he loves her. Neither darkness nor light seems to affect their adventure, a journey supplanted by periods of genuine tranquility.

With the revelation of a seemingly simple surgical procedure, the entire foundation of Robin’s life becomes a house of cards built upon lies. Paul suddenly vanishes, his torn sketches scattered all over the hotel room and his blood splayed across the wall. Robin survives, but she is so utterly changed--physically and in spirit--that she can no longer recognize herself nor see a future for herself in the world she has formerly inhabited. A clinical clarity asserts itself, from the officious hotel manager, who at a terrible moment attempts to gouge Robin for money, to her sudden need to dash out into the now dark alleys and byways of Essaouria to search for Paul. A vindictive impulse from Paul’s blowback springs a trap on Robin and sends her into a downward spiral.

From one disclosure to another, stunned by the truths rendered, Robin goes on the hunt, traveling back to Casablanca. From a wife confronting a woman she thought was her husband’s mistress, Robin finds herself running from the police, first finding safe haven with crafty operator Ben Hassan, who is more than happy to enlighten Robin about Paul’s manifold psychological complexities. When Robin shows Ben the proverbial smoking gun, both are convinced that the Morrocan authorities have all the proof they need to show that Robin attacked her husband with a bottle upon discovering the true nature of his treachery.

Plunging us into the psychological depths of people deeply in love, Kennedy shows how one couple can suddenly lose their connections and need for each other. As Robin treks to the village of Ouarzazate on the edge of the Atlas Mountains and on to the tiny settlement of Tata, where the tents of the Bedouin families provide a doorway to the stifling Sahara Desert, she finds herself battling for her survival, forever bruised by the chaos that Paul has precipitated. Robin is forced to question her insane pursuit of a man whom she should probably have simply cast aside as soon as the blind nature of his treachery became clear.

Written with a vivid sense of place, there is nothing subtle or understated about this tale’s message. A quiet unease hangs over Robin’s journey, and the power of her plight is reinforced by the unrelenting bleakness of the vast Moroccan desert and the implications of realizing that the “blue hour,” the fight to stay alive, ultimately protects her from her very insignificance. In one short scene of terrible violence, the author rips the lid off Robin’s world as surely as he casts her out into the desert, another grain of sand among the countless others.

More than just the story of a woman confronted by the ascetic face of a husband with a multi-faced past, The Blue Hour is also about her encounter with the Sahara and how, adrift in a foreign land, she must find a way of getting through the injustices piled upon her as she struggles with where she truly belongs.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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