Jennifer Reese
September 24, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Lulu in Marrakech

Current Status
In Season
Diane Johnson
Dutton Adult

We gave it a B

The eponymous narrator of ?Lulu in Marrakech, Diane Johnson’s sweet, ? if insubstantial, new confection of a novel, ? is an unlikely spy for the CIA who accepts an ? undercover posting to Morocco. What is pretty thirtysomething Lulu Sawyer’s job exactly? ? To collect ”human intelligence” on Muslim ? terrorist networks by infiltrating the affluent expat culture and listening to gossip over cocktail-laden alfresco lunches. Nice work if you can get it, and the ? ideal career for a Johnson heroine, enabling the author of Le Mariage and Le Divorce to do what she does so well: share her own considerable human intelligence about the adventures of American women abroad.

Conveniently, Lulu just happens to have a rich, ? handsome British boyfriend already living in Morocco when her plane touches down. Ian Drumm — who may or may not be the trustworthy lover he appears — resides on a posh estate with a swimming pool, a staff, and an endless string of houseguests for maximum narrative intrigue. Among the colorful figures to be found opining on Islamic culture while lounging poolside: a famous middle-aged poet and his doleful, pregnant wife; a French sex ? tourist; a politically incorrect English grandmother; and a wealthy Saudi couple with heaps of Louis Vuitton ? luggage and even more marital problems. Much of their conversation concerns the plight of Suma, a lovely French-Algerian au pair who has come to Morocco, ? purportedly fleeing a brother who threatened to kill her for defiling the family’s honor.

With a cast of characters like this — flirting, making love, talking to and constantly about each other — do you really need a fancy plot? Probably not, though Johnson dutifully supplies a thoroughly implausible drama ?about Lulu’s role in the abduction of a terrorist suspect. ?As a government spook, she’s a washout. As the bemused ? observer of a complicated, chatty multicultural social set — and her own complicated romantic yearnings — she’s a cool, self-aware delight. B

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