Occasionally a debut novel arrives that is so assured, so confident in its voice, so skilful in its plotting and characterization that it seems like the work of a seasoned author. Rosie Price’s What Red Was introduces an exciting new voice to fiction ... an atmosphere of barely contained resentments, rivalries and rage, all of which Price captures with acuity and deft humor ... Narratives are cleverly interwoven to create a richly textured whole. The writing is polished, wise and possessed of remarkable emotional intelligence.
...we’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.
From the start the writing is engaging and assured ... 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 ... The strength of the book lies in Price’s ability to delve deep into Kate’s mental anguish ... 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.
The omniscient voice skims between the inner lives of various characters. This level tone is delightful when employed for humorous effect ... At other moments, concision works for dramatic effect ... But at times I wished Price had dwelled longer with her characters ... perhaps this is unfair to Price’s endeavor. 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 ... you feel the sharp edge of Price’s prose ... it is capturing the horrendously common nature of rape that is Price’s greatest accomplishment.
Price gets into the minds of characters, sometimes shifting quickly, to show how sexual violence burrows into whole webs of people. This smart, gripping novel paints an important topic in black-and-white.
...masterful, incisive ... Price, herself a survivor, writes with marvelous clarity and acuity. Her prose is lovely and precise, reminiscent of Donna Tartt or Edward St. Aubyn. In the hands of a less observant writer, or even a clumsier stylist, Kate Quaile’s journey could have felt muddled or sentimental or boring. The story is delicately plotted and quietly piercing ... What Red Was is not a novel about how the truth will set you free. It’s uglier than that, withholding easy catharsis.
... an unexpected pairing of themes — friendship and violence — sets this story apart. And so does the manner in which it is told. There is nothing sentimental about the narrative: Price has given us an unflinching, unromantic story in clear and uncomplicated prose ... There are no writerly gimmicks or tricks here. There really isn’t a subtext to speak of, either. What we’re offered instead is an exploration of the complexities of human behavior and suffering examined with depth, honesty, and sadness ... Scenes are strung together effortlessly, and emotions are rendered so convincingly that, at times, this novel is difficult to read. Private and intimate acts are portrayed like close-ups in a movie ... Kate’s inevitable breakdown and acts of self-harm are so realistic that I felt like I was going through her ordeal myself ... What I found to be problematic were the scattered point-of-view shifts into the attacker’s mind — likely the author’s attempt to give us more than a one-dimensional, monster-type character. She was unable to pull it off ... If there is an uneasiness in reading this novel, it is a deliberate and effective one. What might also be deliberate is what’s missing: warmth and genuine human connection ... remarkable, raw.
...[a] searing debut ... Price has a sure hand in her depiction of the disruption that the trauma causes to Kate’s life. This powerful novel handles its explosive plot with an admirable delicacy and offers an emotional portrait of friendship.
...[a] sensitive debut ... Though Price spends significant time documenting the repressed angst of the Rippon clan, the novel is strongest when Kate, whose evolving emotional state—her depression and panic giving way to waves of rage—is both the heart and spine of the book. But while the novel is thoughtful and observant about privilege and power, it is not, on the whole, especially insightful about those topics, and the result is a story that feels just a touch too familiar. Despite Price’s careful accounting of their dynamics, the characters here—even Kate, who comes alive in the final few pages—feel oddly nonspecific, without the interests or quirks or internal inconsistencies that differentiate individuals from well-illustrated types. The novel doesn’t quite reach the depths of its potential, but Price is a novelist worth watching.