Review | Monday 01 October 2012
Deborah Copaken Kogan’s The Red Book centres on a circle of women – all old friends – who come together again at their Harvard college reunion.
Clover, Addison, Mia and Jane were all roommates until their graduation in 1989. Twenty years later, their lives are a modern depiction of middle-class family life and financial struggle.
Clover is out of a job, Addison’s marriage to a novelist is over and her children as mismanaged as her trust fund, Mia is a stay-at-home mum renovating faster than her director husband can keep up with, and Jane, a former Paris news bureau chief, is grieving the death of her journalist husband and her mother.
Despite their various upheavals, the women have all kept in touch primarily through the production of the red book, a publication passed to Harvard alumni every five years asking students for a concise summary of the past half-decade. Kogan cleverly uses this to acknowledge the fact that there is a story we tell the world, and then the real story behind it. The contrast between the passages of the red book and the reality of the women’s lives allow both humour and, to a certain degree, pathos.
It is hard to wholly sympathise, however, as in truth none of the main characters in this book are very likable; they are spoilt and petulant, and it seems somehow fitting that their dreams are dashed and reality should set in. Nevertheless, this is an easy and engaging read. Kogan uses wit throughout, and of course, it all ends well with the hypothesis that we can turn our lives around at any point. And I’m all for that.