The Red Word asks a bold question: what if women weren’t content to wait for the next assault to take action? What if they got tired of the his-word-against-hers stalemates? Set against the sex wars of the 1990s and the birth of third-wave feminism, the result is a smart, dark, take-no-prisoners look at the extremes to which ideology can go.
As her sophomore year begins, Karen enters into the back-to-school revelry—particularly at a fraternity called GBC. When she wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in the state of feminist activism on campus.
GBC is notorious, she learns, nicknamed “Gang Bang Central” and a prominent contributor to a list of date rapists compiled by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, Karen is equally seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the Raghurst women, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology scholar they all adore. As Karen finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture—but the war between the houses will exact a terrible price.
Well where do I start?….
This is not an easy read but it’s totally mesmerising…..it’s about behaviour, about what is acceptable and what’s not……but just who makes that decision?
Do men decide what is acceptable? Do women? Or is it culture?
“If I get drunk I become rapeable. If I take my clothes off I become rapeable. If I leave your room at night when your passed out I become rapeable”
Karen is at Uni in the US, she’s enjoying the Uni life to the full, but one morning she wakes up in a garden after a drunken night at a frat party. She’s at the house that had advertised for a housemate and she’d intended applying but had wanted to make a good first impression, but here she is grass stained and hungover….
After a weird interview, she is accepted into a fiercely feminist house….and she’s a little in awe but wants to be the same…..she is conflicted though.
What follows is a story, while set in the 1990’s is so relevant today … the question of consent, can a woman under the influence of alcohol or drugs give consent? or is it that a man will take advantage of the situation for their own ends? It’s also about the ‘rape culture’….the ‘She was asking for it dressing like that’ statement…
In this tale, I wonder if the feminists take things too far to make a point, but then the despicable behaviour by the frat boys is accepted as the norm by society …so how else can these behaviours be changed?
An incredibly thought provoking tale, that reminded me of Fay Weldon’s books a little. This is going to stay with me for a long time …for me this is a must read and a favourite for 2019….
Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour and for the promotional materials and a free copy of the book and this is my honest, unbiased review.
You can buy a copy here
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Henstra is a writer and professor of English literature at Ryerson University, where she specialises in 20th Century British Fiction. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
The Red Word is her debut adult fiction novel.
“An aesthetically arresting interrogation of rape culture on campus…Timely and brilliant.” –Kirkus Reviews
“A compulsive and perfectly formed novel reminiscent of The Secret History.” –New Statesman
“The Red Word will get you fuming, laughing, cheering, and most of all, thinking.” –Cosmopolitan
“A timely, telling look at rape culture on campus, Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word boldly goes to the places where memoir can’t but fiction can — and gives way to one hell of a realistic narrative.” –Pop Sugar
“The Red Word examines rape culture on college campuses with a precision and gentleness that few novels have achieved. . . While The Red Word is entertaining, it’s also a sobering reminder of the horrors inflicted on women, trans, and nonbinary people on college campuses.” —Bitch
“The smartest, most provocative novel I’ve read in a long time. Sarah Henstra dives headlong into some murky, turbulent waters — gender politics, campus sexual assault, complicity, moral responsibility — and emerges with a book that’s as shocking as it is essential.” – Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Nine Inches
“The Red Word is set in the 1990s but speaks directly to the present feminist moment. Sarah Henstra takes us into two worlds: that of Women’s Studies classes and lesbian pagan rituals, and of frat boys and S&M theme parties. As I watched Karen struggle with politics, power, and her own culpability in the fallout of I could not put this book down.” — Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Sister Golden Hair
Winner the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction
“The Red Word echoes Donna Tartt’s The Secret History –
but there is nothing derivative about Henstra’s tale.
The Red Word is a beautifully written, gripping take on the battle between the sexes”
The Financial Times
THE RED WORD
Published by Tramp Press in trade paperback, 21st March 2018, £12.99
The Red Word captures beautifully the feverish binarism of campus politics and the headlong rush of youth toward new friends, lovers and life-altering ideas.
With strains of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, Alison Lurie’s Truth and Consequences and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Sarah Henstra’s debut novel arrives on the wings of furies.
The male gaze.
About Tramp Press
Tramp Press is an independent publisher based in Dublin; recent successes include Notes to Self by Emilie Pine, Sara Baume (Spill Simmer Falter Wither, A Line Made By Walking) and Mike McCormack (Solar Bones). More information can be found at http://www.tramppress.com/