Melon’s mother Maria has told her never to write a letter in red ink, as to do so is to wish death on the recipient. Yet red is also the colour used for making corrections, for erasing mistakes, for rewriting history.
Red Ink begins with a recipe for Kollyva, the boiled wheat made for funeral wakes in Greece. The language is poetic, rhythmical and soothing, surrounding you with the warmth of tradition and the comfort of ritual: “Dream of a flower dying, shedding its seeds, allowing another flower to grow.”
Then the melody breaks and we are with Melon, the narrator, 17 days after her mother, Maria, is hit by a London bus and killed. This is to be her story; the story of how she copes, or doesn’t cope. Her voice is chatty, off-hand, that of a 15-year-old girl, yet there is fragility and boldness there – a combination which made me warm to Melon. The reader feels privileged to be let in, and allowed to know her every thought while she remains so closed to those around her.
We see that Melon is difficult to live with, that she is unfair about those people who try to help her, and that she knows it, which creates a strange feeling of duality. She’s sarcastic about Maria’s boyfriend Paulo, who comes to live with her, and presents him as ridiculous at every opportunity: Yet we can see that Paul is kind.
There are other characters more worthy of Melon’s bile: the best friend Chick, who abandons Melon, and Chick’s ridiculous mother Mrs Lacey, who displays startling insensitivity when Melon stays with them in the days after Maria’s death. Mrs Lacey is the sort of character it is a pleasure to despise. Petty and small-minded with false middle-class values, she is a perfect foil to the beautiful, elfin Maria.
Maria is central to the novel, her voice controlling the sections of the book called The Story: the tale of how she left the warmth of Crete and came to England to give birth to Melon. The Story is told in the language of fable, the syntax archaic but fitting, the words echoing like a refrain, sometimes a recitation sometimes a curse (“All the Fourakis family die young”).
Melon is fiercely attached to The Story, yet there are gaps and things which don’t make sense, and somewhere in Crete there is another story which Melon must go and find.
Although Red Ink is billed as a coming-of-age tale, it would be a pity for older readers to dismiss it. There are so many nuances and such precise observations that Red Ink transcends categorisation. I loved it, and found myself describing the world around me as Melon would have done.
Signs of Life
by Anna Raverat
The consequences of an ill-advised relationship is the stuff of many a heated psychodrama. In Anna Raverat’s highly readeable debut, a woman tries to piece together her memories ten years on. Rachel is seemingly content with her boyfriend. Their shared happiness is “like warm blue water – very wide, and very deep”. But when Rachel is pursued by a work colleague, she feels unable to resist his more raffish charms. Raverat alerts us to disaster from the start, prefacing her story with a Sylvia Plath quote: “It was a relief to know I had fallen/ and could fall no further.”
The Meat Fix: How a Lifetime of Health Eating Nearly Killed Me
by John Nicholson
John Nicholson was for 26 years a model vegetarian. But health problems – IBS, high cholesterol, weight issues – led him to reconsider his diet, and he began to feel better after he returned to eating meat. In this rambling, overlong book, Nicholson draws on his own experience to criticise “hysterical, paranoid” dietary advice and extoll the carnivorous lifestyle. Although you never doubt his sincerity, the research he offers to reinforce his argument is unconvincing, and his confrontational style quickly begins to grate. Indeed, judging by the way he dismisses the vegetarian community (“No dreadlocks or earnest lectures about animal rights here. Sod that.”) they’re probably glad to be rid of him.
This Will Make You Smarter
Edited by John Brockman
This inspired idea was begun by Brockman on the Edge website, as his annual forum for experts to answer one given question using layman’s language. It has led to this fabulous book – a mine of accessible science that is food for mind and soul, in three-page essays apiece. The question: “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Answers from a roster of 160 big brains (Matt Ridley, Brian Eno, Richard Dawkins, et al) traverse across the cosmos, deep time and the unconscious. A real must-read.