Life at Oxford has a reputation for being like living in a bubble. We move from one reading list to the next, diving into the lost centuries and ideas of days gone by; but what about today?
This is exactly why reading Red is so refreshing. It’s a collection of brand new short stories, essays and poems from today’s leading writers, put together by Waterstones. It’s so up-to-date it even mentions Tesco Metro, a reference I found sadly lacking in Eliot’s novels.
In this anthology, the writers respond to the colour red (which the editor describes as the colour of “danger and passion”). The result is a work that is bursting with energy, including coverage of everything from crimson love to bloody violence to “seeing red” with rage.
It may seem strange to mix fiction with non-fiction in the same anthology, and at first this does jar. Having lost myself in David Almond’s short story, I felt almost slapped around the face with Suzanne Moore’s anti-Conservative feminist rant. I soon realised this would not be the smooth-flowing narrative of Victorian prose, but something more abstract, and something that reflected the disjointed tapestry of 2012.
At times, I wondered whether the anthology had gone far enough in reflecting the past year. It dips into our history-in-the-making whilst leaving many major events untouched. But, instead of writing a Wikipedia style entry on 2012, the writers are trying to capture the spirit of our year, using individuals to relate to it. After all, we don’t have a collective consciousness: we experience only our little corner of life.
Cecelia Ahern’s story crosses age and time barriers to relate powerful advice about the choices we make: “When you’re in the middle of it all, you don’t see it too well, it’s a spin.” And we don’t. Our society has more variety in it than ever, but we’re unable to see it all at once. We’re plunged into a similar set of themes when faced with Hanif Kureishi’s humble narrator, a self-sacrificing Pakistani woman who has escaped to Paris for a better life.
Red tries to take a step back from the world and allow us to see it more fully, breaking down these barriers. It’s a poignant anthology that everyone can relate to, and which relates everyone to each other. As Alice Oswald notes, below the skin we’re all “dressed in matching red.”