It’s one of the most talked about books, included on every list of recommendations, no matter what the occasion. Tangerinethe psychological thriller by debut author Christine Mangan, is not only beautifully written prose, but electric in imagery. Taking place in Tangier, Morocco, in the 1950s, the novel is vivid and full of heat, winding the characters up tighter and tighter as events around them begin to fall apart, only adding further to the feelings of claustrophobia and anxiety that are the hallmarks of every great thriller.

Alice and Lucy used to be best friends and roommates, practically inseparable. But after an accident, the two haven’t spoken in over a year – which is why Alice is so startled when Lucy shows up on her doorstep in Tangier, trying to return to their old friendship, and act like nothing happened. For Alice, though, this is something of a double-edged sword: she hasn’t adjusted well to living in Morocco, and Lucy is energetic and outgoing, helping her adjust and feel more settled; but at the same time, that familiar feeling of being controlled and restrained starts to creep back into Alice’s life. Then, when Alice’s husband goes missing, she’s forced to question her reality – and her own mind.

Thrilling, exotic, and vivid, Tangerine is impossible to put down. BookTrib got to chat with debut author Christine Mangan on inspiration, writing thrillers, movie adaptions, and what’s coming next.

BookTrib: This is your debut novel – what first inspired you to want to write?

Christine Mangan: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I remember my dad bringing home an electric typewriter and thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world! At the time I was in love with playwriting and would spend hours writing various scripts that my friends and I would perform at our local library.

I later went on to study fiction writing for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. During that time, I started and stopped a number of different novels, but never quite managed to finish anything. It wasn’t until after I completed my postgraduate degree, and had traveled to Tangier, that I finally found the ‘right’ story.

BookTrib: Alice and Lucy, individually and together, are so compelling. Can you tell us a little of how you first started writing their characters, and if they evolved in the way that you originally planned out?

CM: Alice and Lucy were initially born out of my own personal experiences in Tangier. It’s such a unique city and continues to be unlike any place I have ever visited. There are times when it’s entirely overwhelming and I can’t wait to leave and then there are times when it feels like the absolute best place in the world and I’m already planning my next trip back. When I first started writing Alice and Lucy, they were built around these opposing viewpoints, these very opposite reactions that the city of Tangier seems to elicit from visitors.

There were variations in their stories as the novel evolved and moved from draft to draft, but overall, I would say they stayed true to the original sketch that I had formed of them.

BookTrib: The relationship between Alice and Lucy is so vibrant and electric, if not claustrophobic and a little dangerous. What made you want to write about their friendship in such an interesting way?

CM: I really wanted to explore female friendship and, in particular, those relationships that we form in our younger years, the ones that have the potential to define us and who we become as adults. The moment I was most interested in was when that relationship starts to deteriorate and how both sides react to that moment. I think it’s something that most people experience and can relate to—that awful feeling that the world is ending when such a significant relationship begins to falls apart. In that way then, everything that Lucy does in this novel is a reaction to that, to the fear of losing Alice and the friendship that they had formed—all taken to Gothic extremes, of course.

BookTrib: It’s one thing to write about Tangier, but it’s entirely another to write about Tangier in the 1950s. Was this something that you found difficult to do? 

CM: I really loved writing about Tangier and specifically Tangier in the 1950s because it required two of my favorites things: travel and research. The city of Tangier is the inspiration for Tangerine, without traveling there first, this novel would probably never have been written. It was because of everything that I saw there, everyone that I met, everything that I experienced that I sat down to write the story of Lucy and Alice. And the decision to set it in the 1950s was one that I made initially based on the little history of Tangier that I knew, which was largely based around the expats that had lived there during that time. When I returned back to the States and started doing more research, I realized what a significant decade that was for Tangier and Morocco as a whole, moving, as they were, towards independence. After that, everything started to come together.  

BookTrib: This book is so full, dynamic and twisting at times – was there anything you took out at the very last second, or wanted to add in but didn’t?

CM: In the very first draft there was actually a third main character. In the end, and after much discussion with my agent, we decided that it didn’t fit, no matter how interesting a character he was—this was a story about Lucy and Alice and needed to remain focused on them exclusively.

BookTrib: Tangerine is being turned into a film, tentatively starring Scarlett Johansson. When you were writing the novel, was this somewhere you thought it could or would be going?

CM: No, never in a million years! I didn’t even think it would get an agent’s attention, let alone be published. The possibility of a film is still something that I can’t quite believe.

BookTrib: Tangerine has been met with critical acclaim. I can’t think of a single person or publication that hasn’t loved it. Are you planning on writing another novel?

CM: I’m currently finishing up a draft of my second novel.

Tangerine is now available for purchase.


Photo: Casey Carsello

Christine Mangan has her PhD in English from University College Dublin, where her thesis focused on 18th-century Gothic literature, and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Southern Maine.  Tangerine is her first novel.

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