I was aware of The Red Book when it was published last year – it got a couple of mentions in magazines and Sam Baker (ex-Red editor and now book blogger for Harper’s Bazaar) tweeted about it. I’d even gone as far as to pick a copy up while I was browsing in Waterstones and then put it back down again. I just wasn’t sure about it. And then it was longlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize, so I read it.
The Red Book of the title is a book produced by Harvard giving an insight into the whereabouts of its graduates. Each member of the year group submits their information – contact details, occupation, spouse/partner, spouse/partner’s occupation, children – every five years after graduation and then the book’s sent out to that year’s cohort. Then there’s a weekend reunion.
We meet our cohort on the twentieth anniversary of their graduation. The story centres around four women who have remained friends throughout that time. Addison is an artist who hasn’t actually created any art in years, instead she spends her time looking after the three children she’s had with her husband Gunner, while he spends his time trying to write his second novel – it’s been 10 years so far. Clover’s recently been made redundant from Lehman Brothers and is desperate for a baby. Her husband Daniel (who we never meet) refuses to have a fertility test. Mia’s busy bringing up a family of four, having abandoned her dream of becoming an actress. Her husband Jonathan is a successful film director. And Jane is a journalist living and working in Paris. She’s coming to terms with the death of her mother and her husband and the infidelity of her current partner Bruno, editor of a French newspaper.
As you can probably tell, there’s a lot going on and more to come!
Early in the novel, Addison – who’s enormously irritating – is arrested for running a red light. And then put in jail for the $100,000 of unpaid parking tickets she collected during her time at Harvard. This gives Kogan a reason to introduce Bennie, Addison’s former lover, who works for Google and is the only one of the group with enough loose change to pay that sort of fine:
And though both Bennie and her pronoun were abberations in the arc of Addison’s sexual history, what the two had together – although Addison would only be able to understand this in retrospect…was love.
So, we have infidelity, infertility, inability, financial instability, sexuality, mortality and practicalities. It’s a lot to pack into a novel and although the book’s interesting – nothing like a good nosy around other people’s lives – at some points, there’s just too much going on.
Was it worth picking up? Yes, if you enjoy a good saga but I’ll be stunned if it makes the shortlist.