Thursday, 5 March 2015

Red Champagne by Reb MacRath

Review by Bill Kirton

Where to begin with the various pleasures of this short narrative? The atmospheric evocation of a period (the 1930s) with its music, its lifestyles and the glamour of travelling on a powerful beast of a luxury train? Well, yes, that’s a start. Then there are the passengers, a group of interesting, interacting characters, each with his or her striking characteristics and agendas and each an important element in the mystery which is the defining centre of the narrative. Or maybe we should focus on the magical aspect of a story which gives its protagonists chances to relive and actually alter the experiences that lead up to and beyond that mystery, learning more about themselves as they do so, and subtly changing their approaches to the dilemmas they face.

The truth is that all these (and other) effects are woven together with such skill and √©lan that we just sit back and enjoy the spectacle as we hurtle with the characters through the night of Xmas Eve 1938. the author sustains the narrative’s pace with deceptive ease, teases us with repeated snippets of events which fold us into the time shifts without disorientation, and even, despite the seeming impossibilities of achieving a satisfactory resolution, comes up with a happy ending.

On top of all this, there’s also the obvious delight he takes in using language and making his words work hard for the effects he seeks. There are the “boarded windows of bored–dead enterprises” which are both “a misty presence to the eye” and “musty presents to the fog, as happily haunted as holes in the hills." It’s a deliberate manipulation of language which both contributes to the text’s impact and offers the additional pleasure of purely linguistic effects and allusions. After a throwaway mention of Byron, for example, a conversation contains the exchange and comment:
"You're mad."
"And bad and dangerous."
To know what she'd done and to see her like this […] was more than Claire could suffer.
The positioning of that “To know” brings a smile that has little to do with the story and lots to do with just the joy and power of words.

I note that the book’s garnered plenty of 5 star reviews. That’s no surprise at all – it’s from the pen/keyboard of a real writer.

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