Red Cabbage Blue is a gently told story of enormous tragedy, family secrets, and intergenerational conflict. I don’t do spoilers if I can avoid them, but the book follows a therapy journey: a young girl, Adele, an art student, who turns up in a counsellor’s office presenting unusual symptoms… That is enough to sketch out that there’s a mystery to be solved…
Overall, I enjoyed the book as a quiet contrast to reading two Sally Rooney novels and several others, all by women, charting the tangled web of human relationships and the utter disaster of trusting anyone. The perils of having parents. The power of secrets unexplained. Readers are led along by characters desperately searching for love (whatever that actually means) and finding only its many negatives. Sometimes the page-turning can be almost too absorbing. Sometimes the ending, which may also be unresolved, is so real it leaves a sense of the sadness of human existence in its wake.
Why is this one different? Although the ending is left ambiguous or rather unresolved, there is a sense of resolution. Adele, the protagonist, has arrived at space where she will be able to make positive decisions, and live her own life, disentangled from her and her family’s past. Despite the historic tragedy, she is able to move forward. Secrets have been uncovered, experience has been turned around. The argument for including resolution rather than open endings is certainly made by this writer.
The style, alternating between first person Adele and first person Mike, her therapist, was usefully employed, as we shared both their perspectives on her addiction. The style is matter of fact, and while drama is certainly present, it isn’t heightened in the telling. However, there are negatives: although I found Adele believable, I have trouble with Mike Lewis, her therapist. There’s perhaps no reason why a female author should choose to write a series where the linking character is male, but I’m not yet convinced that Annie Try succeeds here. Apart from his references to his beard, and his messy flat, I found this guy could equally be a woman, in his thoughts and behaviour. Indeed, I have known women whose flats could be equally messy, whether because of underlying depression or some kind of choice which places creative work above housework! (Currently reading Night Waking by Sarah Moss, and finding her bohemian-academic Mum character annoyingly messy and true to a certain kind of family life!)
So, would I recommend this book? It’s a good relaxing read. It’s a book where you cheer for the protagonist and are relieved that they ‘make it’ to a better place. It has a positive feel. And the intriguing title is interesting too - a small culinary secret tied into a hidden memory. And the author, a clinical psychologist, writes about what she knows, so her details of life in a counselling centre ring absolutely true. All of us have weaknesses and ’stuff’ we’re dealing with - even your teacher, doctor, therapist…yet are giving their best as they can.
Featured Image: paperback cover, Instant Apostle website (I read on my very old Kindle!)