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What Red Was Reviews

What Red Was by Rosie Price

What Red Was

Rosie Price

3.81 out of 5

9 reviews

Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 9 May 2019
ISBN: 9781787301382

`How do you know my name?'Through their four years at university, Kate and Max are inseparable. But loving Max means knowing his family, the wealthy Rippons, all generosity, social ease and quiet repression.

  • The BooksellerEditor's Choice
4 stars out of 5
Alice O'Keeffe
1 Feb 2019

"On this basis of this debut Price, a former RCW staffer, has a stellar career ahead"

One of Vintage's three key debuts for 2019, this contemporary tale of sexual violence and class feels fresh and urgent. Kate and Max meet at university and form an instant, platonic bond. When he introduces her to his wealthy, cultured family in London, it's a world away from the single-parent household she grew up in. But one night, at a party in his family home, Kate is raped. The consequences of this shattering event on Kate, and those around her, are powerfully explored. On this basis of this debut Price, a former RCW staffer, has a stellar career ahead.


4 stars out of 5
Abigail Bergstrom
9 Jun 2019

"A scorching and original read"

One of the most anticipated first novels of the summer, this is the story of a young girl whose life is torn apart in a bedroom, while a party goes on downstairs. A scorching and original read, it addresses sexual violence, classism and how trauma affects our minds and bodies.

3 stars out of 5
1 Jun 2019

"a complex examination of agency and sexual assault"

What Red Was is unflinchingly visceral, but there are also tender moments of friendship and awkward family life beside the overwhelming damage... Price weaves other lives, family tensions and relationship breakdown into the novel, creating a tangle of perspectives. Blank spots in each character’s internal narrative delicately imply what they cannot bear to acknowledge... Each character becomes known to the reader through what is hinted at by the others... Rosie Price has written a messy, painful account of rape in which no positive resolution is possible.

3 stars out of 5
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
31 May 2019

"a hotly tipped debut"

This is a social novel, focusing on Max’s family and their interactions with outsider Kate. The character types are recognisable: the brilliant, “mad” grandmother, whom one imagines played by Maggie Smith; the callous businessman; Max, the young dilettante; his mother, a talented but troubled artist; the cousin who uses outward markers of success to hide his inner bitterness. The omniscient voice skims between the inner lives of various characters. This level tone is delightful when employed for humorous effect... But at times I wished Price had dwelled longer with her characters. For example, we learn that a woman, “re-traumatised by a bloody and difficult birth, began to travel more for work”; then the text marches quickly on. If that sentence had been a scene, we might have felt for her more thoroughly. But perhaps this is unfair to Price’s endeavour. Her interest lies less in the interior lives of her characters and more in an analysis of what it means to be a woman in a world saturated with masculine aggression... I don’t want to call this book timely, because the crisis began long before the #MeToo era. And it is capturing the horrendously common nature of rape that is Price’s greatest accomplishment.

5 stars out of 5
Hannah Beckerman
19 May 2019

"A brilliantly told tale of class, abuse and familial dysfunction marks the arrival of an exciting new voice in fiction"

Occasionally a debut novel arrives that is so assured, so confident in its voice, so skilful in its plotting and characterisation that it seems like the work of a seasoned author. Rosie Price’s What Red Wasintroduces an exciting new voice to fiction... After Kate is subjected to a horrific sexual attack in Max’s family home, Price conveys the brutal psychological aftermath... There are several themes at play in What Red Was: sexual abuse, inherited trauma, emotional repression, family dysfunction, grief, disappointment, class… Narratives are cleverly interwoven to create a richly textured whole. The writing is polished, wise and possessed of remarkable emotional intelligence. Price is just 26; I cannot wait to see what she produces next.

3 stars out of 5
16 May 2019

"...since this is so obviously Price’s story, might she not have been better off telling it as just that"

It comes as no surprise to read that Price herself was raped, since it’s the main premise of the novel and the part that rings true. In particular, her descriptions of the fine line between sexual arousal and self-disgust, between pain and pleasure during the act of intercourse, and how quickly one can turn into the other are especially well done. Kate’s feelings of constant helplessness and shame are vividly evoked too...But since this is so obviously Price’s story, might she not have been better off telling it as just that, rather than constructing a flimsy narrative with clichéd characters, many of whom are “toxic” simply by virtue of being upper-class?

3 stars out of 5
John Boyne
11 May 2019

"a confident and provocative novel"

This is not a novel concerned with bringing a rapist to justice or destroying the smug insouciance of a privileged family. It’s more interested in how Kate, the victim, deals with her assault. She tells no one for a long time and even when she gradually opens up to one or two close friends, including Max, she refuses to name her attacker... The strength of the book lies in Price’s ability to delve deep into Kate’s mental anguish in the months that follow... The novel is not flawless. Although he’s central to the action, Max is a little underwritten... Small quibbles aside, this is a strong debut by an incredibly young author, an assured and challenging novel that suggests an incipient talent worthy of notice.

4 stars out of 5
Kate Saunders
10 May 2019

"something disturbingly different"

Rosie Price is a young writer with a voice as fresh as new paint. In her debut, What Red Was, she takes on the subject of rape and its after-effects... [W[e’re in the familiar territory of Brideshead Revisited and The Great Gatsby, in which an outsider observes a privileged elite. This story, however, quickly swerves off the well-trodden path into something disturbingly different... I’m not surprised that there was a fierce bidding war for this novel. Price’s writing has a beautiful assurance, and she describes the after-effects of rape in a way that should make readers question their own prejudices.

4 stars out of 5
Nina Pottell
5 May 2019

"A powerful read"

Kate and Max come from different worlds. They've been inseperable since university, but when Kate is attacked at a graduation party hosted by Max's family, her life is shattered. Deeply traumatised, she stays quiet. But the effects of her trauma are overwhelming and far-reaching. A powerful read.