What Red Was is a novel about pleasure and pain, power and control, and ownership. It also has a fuzzy plotless plot.
The crux of the story is how to move on from rape, the issues involved with the many factors of sexual assault including the rippling effects on other people. From the accused who has 'evidence' that the victim was a willing partner and the male friend who wonders why a 'handsome man would need to rape' to the woman who believes that the 'first rape is a rite of passage between virginity and motherhood,' this intense first book delves deep into the conflict between the body and the mind.
This part of the story, the second half, makes uncomfortable reading but it is expertly done. It considers how telling people about it can be a help and a hindrance, as if it is something of an entity in itself that the victim has relinquished control over. This section is clear, well written and almost mesmerising in places. Except for the expression 'under-exaggerated'. I'll have to give that more thought.
If the book had stayed here it may have been shorter but it would have been better. Instead there is a ramble around a family befriended by the protagonist, their pointless contribution to the story distracting rather than adding. Here the narrative slides into reporting backgrounds in place of showing, sketchy characters and a fair amount of head-hopping even within the same sentence. So the first half of the book is slow and plodding and a little confusing amid the various uncles and holidays and other mundane activities.
It would be a shame if the first part cast a shadow on the true themes of the book, which are clever and provocative and stay with you long after the final chapter is closed. The type of book everyone should read to gain a true understanding of the effects of sexual assault. Very much of our times.
Rosie Price has great potential.
Published by Random House Uk, Vintage Publishing May 2019.
Advance review copy supplied by the publisher.
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