The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

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The Red Book Longlisted for 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize

Five words from the blurb: Harvard, graduates, lives, twentieth, reunion

The Red Book was longlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize last week. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it sounded as though it had the potential to be a good read. Unfortunately the plot was too gentle for me, but I can see it appealing to fans of quiet books that focus on relationships.

The plot revolves around the special book that graduates of Harvard University receive every five years. This book details the private lives and accomplishments of each graduate, showing how their lives have progressed since they received the last installment. The Red Book concentrates on four women who were roommates when they studied, twenty years ago. It focuses on their relationships; detailing numerous affairs, the grief of lost loved ones, and the problems of motherhood. It was basically chick-lit for the slighter older woman.

The initial section of the book was fantastic. Each character was developed fully, with an interesting back story and a range of flaws. Unfortunately as the book progressed I began to lose interest. The plot was too ordinary and I failed to form an emotional connection to the characters. If I’d been to Harvard University then I might have enjoyed some aspects of the book more, but as a UK graduate the details left me cold:

Traffic in front of the Microbus has halted, an admixture of the normal clogged arteries at the Charles River crossings during rush hour compounded by the arterial plaque of reunion weekend attendees, those thousand of additional vehicles that appear every June like clockwork, loaded up with alumni families and faded memories, the later triggered out of dormancy by the sight of the crimson cupola of Dunster House or the golden dome of Adams House or the Eliot House clock tower, such that any one of the drivers blocking Addison’s path to Harvard Square might be thinking, as Addison is right now (catching a glimpse of a nondescript window on the sixth floor of that disaster of a modernist building that is Mather House), There, right there: That is where I first fucked her.

This sort of story has been told many times before and I’m afraid that other authors have done a better job. It lacked the depth and insight required to raise this book to the next level. I read the first 200 pages, but in the end I couldn’t force myself to read the remaining third.

If you’d like to read a book about American graduates try The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, but if you live in the UK I highly recommend Starter for Ten by David Nicholls.

DNF

The thoughts of other bloggers:

…the ultimate lessons of friendship, love, life, marriage and death were moving, if sometimes overwrought. Nomadreader

The main problem with the book comes down to lack luster (and in some cases, just bad) writing. Redrunninghood

It was hysterically funny at times. From the TBR pile


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17 Comments

  1. Naomi Frisby says:

    Oh, that’s not filled me with joy! It’s one of the longer books on the list too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Naomi, It is one of the longer books, but the writing is quite light so it doesn’t take as long to read as you’d think. I look forward to seeing your thoughts on this one, if you decide to give it a go.

      1. Naomi Frisby says:

        Well I have a copy so I’ll get to it at some point along the way. It’ll be interesting to compare notes if nothing else!

  2. David says:

    The cover appeals, as does the subject, but that example of the writing certainly doesn’t! I won’t be rushing out to get this one.

    I’m reading the Kate Atkinson at the moment and liking it quite a lot.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Yes, the writing is nothing special. It is probably the weakest writing I’ve found on the longlist so far. I’ve provided quite a long excerpt as I thought it was best if the writing spoke for itself :-(

  3. Charlie says:

    There are books that can repeat but be interesting nonetheless, but this sounds one that is too much of a clone. That it’s on the longlist makes me want to read its GoodReads page, because the quotes you’ve added from other bloggers (and I know you provide a good selection) back up what you’ve said, and it makes me want to find out why it was chosen.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, I’d love to know why it was selected. Perhaps one of the judges went to Harvard and loved the reminiscing?!

  4. Laura says:

    I’m not surprised by your take on this. I came across this author last year through a very roundabout way and took a look at what she’d written and reviews on LibraryThing, Amazon, etc. I wasn’t impressed and I moved on. I was VERY surprised to see this book nominated.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, It is good to know I’m not alone in my thoughts on this one. I wonder why it was nominated over so many other fantastic books?

  5. I have this at home and I tend to like post-collegiate fiction — as I’m in Boston, I might click more with the Harvard grad thing — but sometimes it can rub me the wrong way!

    1. Jackie says:

      Audra, It sounds as though you’ll enjoy this one more than I did. Fingers crossed your college links will work for you.

  6. I’m not surprised to hear you didn’t finish this one! I was quite surprised to see it on the longlist, and I didn’t think it had the literary chops. I remember reading this one the weekend of my husband’s grandmother’s funeral, and the melodrama seemed fitting at that time, but even then I found it overwrought!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, It is good to know I’m not alone in my thoughts on this one. I can see why it worked for that difficult weekend in your life, but I suspect that you might have been a bit less tolerant if you read it now :-)

  7. Oh, I love Starter for Ten, it’s so cringingly funny yet honest too.
    I’m reading this for the longlist too, I will bear in mind that it’s a gentle sort of story.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sam, It is good to find another Starter for Ten fan – it reminded me of many aspects of my university life. So funny! I look forward to seeing what you make of this one.

  8. Sandy says:

    Really makes me wonder what is going on in these nomination committees. I guess as usual, it just comes down to taste.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Yes. I’d love to be a fly on the wall as they make these decisions!

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