Saturday, August 4, 2012
Review: In Red
3.5 - Recommended to readers who don't mind not knowing where the story is taking them
Publisher: Archipelago Books
Whoever has been everywhere and has seen everything, last of all should pay a visit to Stitchings.
That's the first line of Magdalena Tulli's novel, In Red, and it seems innocuous enough at first glance. Go, see the world, do all the things in life you've dreamed of, then come chill with us, but only then - it appears to be saying.
And why, exactly, do you think anyone would say such a thing about their own town? Perhaps they think you won't be terribly impressed. Or the opposite, they know it's the best town you'll ever visit so they want to save it for last? Or maybe, just maybe, that first line is a warning to the weary traveler. Stay away - it implies. Danger - it suggests.
Let's pretend we are that weary traveler. It would appear there are only a few ways into this imaginary polish town - by sleigh if it's winter time, by boat or by train in the spring. None of them appear to be very favorable, as the book warns us that we will fall victim to pickpockets and street urchins at each point.
The town itself seems to change and flicker right before our eyes. There is war, and then there is not war. It is under German possession, and then... it is not. It is an industrial town with prosperous family-owned businesses, and then those businesses are vacant, destroyed. It is winter, and then it is perpetual spring. It is starving and poor, and then it is rich with counterfeit money. It is a town that is, and that is not.
What are those red strings that float in the air. There, do you see it? Make sure one does not land on your shoulder, it appears to bring death to those it touches. Keep your heart beating at all times, it seems that death is not allowed to rest here. Be wary of your neighbors, the crowds on the streets, because they cannot be trusted and may not trust you. Don't try to leave, the schedules for docking and departing are illegible, changeable, they only appear to bring travelers in. They are empty otherwise. If you were to try to leave, something will end up calling you back before you got away, anyway.
This is a book that I've had to let percolate for awhile. I was never one hundred percent certain of what was taking place. Tulli seemed to enjoy toying with me, as a cat with a mouse. Just when I thought I was getting my bearings, she would swat me on the back of the neck and spin me around, and I'd find myself slightly disoriented again.
After reading In Red cover to cover, I still struggled to reconcile that first line. Is it heavy with foreshadowing or have I misread it? Is it a subtle warning to those who might be considering a visit to Stitchings? Is the book what I've made it out to be? Or is Tulli playing with smoke and mirrors? Perhaps you'll just have to trust me. Or maybe, it would be best for you to read it for yourself.