A Reader's Respite has a nearly magnetic attraction to literary prize nominees. One of our favorites is the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize). So when the long-list was announced a couple of weeks back, we immediately took note of the handful of books on the list that we hadn't read and went to work rectifying our oversights. The Red Book was one of those oversight novels. The title refers to Harvard University's alumni publication, produced every five years, that summarizes each graduate's 'life progress' (for want of a better term).
Four friends, all Harvard alumni, are converging on Cambridge for their 20th reunion. The lives of Clover, Addison, Mia and Jane have taken vastly different paths following their graduation and The Red Book is an examination of the choices they have made along with the consequences those choices wrought.
The novel is, at times, insightful. Unfortunately, despite the different choices each of these women has made, they all sound *exactly alike*. Perhaps this is a regrettable side-effect of attending Harvard (the Stepford graduates). Or, more likely, it is the result of the author's neglect to create distinctive and different characters. Despite the novel's length we were never able to reliably discern which character was speaking when.
All of this is a downright shame because aside from this flaw, Kogan is clearly talented. In fact, if The Red Book were told by simply one single character, the novel would have flawlessly beautiful. Heartbreaking, insightful, witty writing is obvious in every sentence Kogan puts forth. As one character says,
“How many of us are being true to ourselves, true to our ideals, true to that 18-year-old kid who first walked into the Yard, filled with dreams? We’re all given one life. And we’re all marching toward the same miserable end.”
Unfortunately, we just couldn't tell you precisely which character says it.
Title: The Red Book
Author: Deborah Copaken Kogan
Rating: 3 stars