Publication Date: 9th May 2019
Publisher: Harvill Secker
I remember seeing this mentioned on Twitter way back towards the end of last year and going away and doing a little bit of research. I liked the sound of it and got a buzzy excited feeling about it which prompted me to add it to my Most Anticipated Reads of 2019 post here.
What Red Was tells the story of Kate who at the opening of the book has just started at university. She is a little isolated but manages to make friends with Max, a fellow student and they bond over their love of watching films.
Although they are extremely close, they do not have a romantic connection but are completely comfortable sharing a bed together. Max has a film director mother and Kate wants to work her way into film production. Max brings Kate into his family life, a life which is privileged and wealthy, some way off Kate’s humble upbringing with her single mum.
However, affluence doesn’t equate to happiness and various members of Max’s family are troubled and have their demons.
Kate bonds with Max’s family and finds herself welcomed by them and taken under their wing. When a sexual assault takes place upstairs at a gathering at one of the family homes, Kate’s life is turned on it’s head and her position within Max’s family changes.
I was absolutely gripped by this story even though it’s not hugely plot based. I tweeted when I was reading it that although it was an uncomfortable read, I just couldn’t look away from it.
The sexual assault scene was very deftly done. Rape in any guise is rape and of course is absolutely horrific but there was something extra unsettling in that this was not a stranger violently grabbing a woman down a back alley somewhere, the attacker is known to Kate and the rape itself is not particularly violent and that for me made it all the more uncomfortable to read, infact Kate is horrified when her body betrays her brain and actually begins to respond. However, Kate quite clearly says no and has her trust and dignity shattered. I found this an unbearable scene to read, quite quite heartbreaking.
What follows on from the aftermath of this is event is not some huge police enquiry or fallout of epic proportions. Kate tries her utmost to get on with her life. A fact that made this story all the more distressing in my opinion. I was particularly upset when in the hours and days following the rape, Kate is desperate for someone to notice that this has happened to her, without her having to explicitly say so. In having coffee with one of the other characters the next morning or when she attends a chemist to get the morning after pill she is hoping her little subtle body language signals or expressions will give away some clue to these people to prompt her into telling them what has happened to her. She is desperate for them to read between the lines and save her.
When this doesn’t happen, Kate has to try and carry on with her life despite feeling hopelessly lost and angry deep down inside.
What I also loved about this book is the fact that Kate does eventually tell some of the people around her what has happened. It is not a story based on trying to cover up any perceived shame which can quite often be the way these stories can go.
I will say that I was quite disappointed that having told a handful of people about the event, not one of them told her to report it to the police until much much later on and even then it was only one individual who mentions it, almost too casually. I didn’t quite understand this and thought it was puzzling to say the least.
Alongside, but not overshadowing the central rape story is a story about class, inheritance and entitlement. Max’s family property being divided between his father and two uncles after the death of his beloved grandmother. I enjoyed this aspect very much as I feel it gave a certain depth to not only Max but some of the peripheral characters.
Max and Kate’s relationship is beautiful. The way they communicate and interact, the way they drop everything for each other is lovely to read. It could have been quite easy for the author to push them together romantically and I’m so glad this didn’t happen. They both have their demons, Kate coping with the aftermath of her rape in self-destructing ways and Max coping with trying to carve a successful career out for himself and worrying about his uncles mental state. They both abuse alcohol and drugs, particularly Max and I have to just mention a trigger warning for self-harm.
I feel like this book is such an important read. It made me feel things that I’m struggling to put into words. Was I uncomfortable? disgusted? shocked?…..yes, all of these things but some other indefinable emotion that I felt so strongly yet can’t verbalise.
There is a real anger and rage in this story and a real power to Kate and in the end I found it quite a cathartic read. It has certainly played on my mind a lot since I’ve finished it. One of those books that really gets under your skin and makes you question your own thoughts and internal arguments.
A thoroughly immersive, important story that very much needs to be heard.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my proof and finished copies.
See you soon
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx