For the longest time I had a thing for what I call “pink books”. You know, books withe mostly female characters where the principal protaganists hate each other at the start, yet inevitably fall in love at the end. Hardly highbrow, but I don’t care. And why “pink books”? Well, find the section where they are housed in your local bookstore or library and you will see shelves of almost wall to wall pink.
As I headed into my late twenties, and now early thirties, these books lost something of their fascination for me. I just found them too trite and frequently poorly written. I wanted something a little more fluid, a little more challenging, a little more real, a little more grown up. I tried to find something like that and maybe went too far the other way, reading novels about wars and genocide and mental illness, where love was complicated and infrequent. Not happy, easy, books. I missed the lightness of the pink books, but didn’t return to them.
“The Red Book” bridges this divide perfectly.
It revolves around likable, if flawed female protagonists and to, a certain extent, their complex love lives. But it is so much more than a pink book.
It tackles modern issues
Both the banking crisis and the decline of the conventional newspaper play central roles in this novel.
“It’s hard to imagine a world without sentences, thoughts, poetry, and prose, and yet every day I see it happening: the shortening of our attention spans, the editors who ask for two hundred words max, the daily fix of small nothings. A YouTube clip of two monkeys humping; Aunt Mildred’s status update; baseless rumors; lies that become truth simply for having been typed into somebody’s blog. What can one learn in two hundred words or 140 characters or 35 seconds about anything. Nothing, it strikes me, that’s worth knowing.”
They are not passed over, or simply used as narrative tools, to twist the plot or locate the period, as they may be in other novels. They are discussed head on. And their complexities are raised, for challenging us to feel sympathy for the human impact of the banking crisis on the rich.
It deals with complexity head on
None of the protagonists is perfect. But they are likable and incredibly human. They began their adult life in a world of opportunity (they were Harvard friends in the 80s) but did very different things with this opportunity, with different degrees of success and indeed, happiness.
“‘Jesus Christ, Mia’, said Addison, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me! What, so he can get into Harvard? For all the good it’s done both of us, you’d think you’d be a little more dubious about the Ivy League arms race. It means nothing, Mia. Nothing. Some of the most successful people I know never even went to college!'”
There are no tidy endings
I can’t really tell you about this without ruining the novel but suffice to say it doesn’t all wrap up tidily, with everyone on a “high” like your average pink book. On the other hand, in some way, it is more inspiring because of its realism and humanity. When you read a pink book as an adult, you kind of know it’s nothing like your life. The Red Book feels a lot more plausible. This may contribute to a feeling that I had throughout, that this would make a brilliant play. I hope some brilliant playwright feels the same way!