What Red Was by Rosie Price

Kate and Max become friends at university.

Kate comes from a single-parent home. Her mother suffered from depression and Kate’s journey to university is by no means a foregone conclusion, though she is smart.

Max has well-connected and rich parents and his mother is a famous film director.

Kate and Max build a close, platonic friendship whose limits are tested (spoiler alert) when Max’s cousin rapes Kate at a party. What this does to Kate, her ability to confront the experience, who she confides in, turns a fun coming of age comedy full of parties, drugs and alcohol, into something much more complex.

A novel about the cruel edges of creativity and the difficulty of overcoming rape, What Red Was felt like a novel I should enjoy. I admired its exploration of friendship, class and the ways in which we help others to feed our own needs, however – and I may well be a lone voice in this – I can’t say that this was a novel for me.

There is a lot to embrace. There is a rich seam of filmography and film-reference. There is an honest approach to the difficulties of cross-class friendships not only between contemporaries but with the families of those friends, allowing us to examine the rewards and blindnesses of privilege. Addiction, depression, anxiety are all looked at from different angles, exploring a personal struggle with mental health as well as its implications for family and friends. There is also a clear and brazen exploration of rape from both perspectives. All this is impressive and undoubtedly will appeal to and inspire many readers. That it didn’t connect with me, is merely my honest response to What Red Was. I want to like the novel, I just can’t feel it in my guts. I’m sure there will be many who do though and you’ll know if this sounds like your kind of book. You’ll be able to get your hands on a copy in May 2019.

Next week I’m reviewing Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks.

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