Red Leaves by Paullina Simons
Like quite a few of the novels I review on the blog, I read this book back in the 1990s and had a real phase of devouring anything written by Paullina Simons. Some books, on being re-read in 2020 have not stood the test of time. I am pleased to report that this is not the case with Red Leaves which has all the 'Secret History' feels and I have loved re-reading this novel.
What's it about?
Over the thanksgiving period the naked body of beautiful dark-haired Kristina Kim is found frozen in the snow at a New England college campus. Why have her 3 best friends failed to report her as missing and what are they all hiding?
The novel is split into 2 halves. The first half is narrated by Kristina herself and covers the lead up to her murder. The second half is told from the viewpoint of Spencer O'Malley, the investigating police officer He becomes obsessed with her murder and the players involved namely her privileged friends, Jim, Connie and Albert and the web of lies, and complex set of affairs they have woven around themselves.
Impressions of the Novel
The novel is really beautiful and very quiet, it almost feels as if the snow has muffled all the background noise on reading this. I loved Kristina's narrative, she is secretive and self-destructive and her observances on her truly ghastly group of friends who are supposed to be those closest to her and yet know nothing about her are sad and you really feel Kristina's loneliness.
The star in all of this is the landscape and the surroundings at the beautiful Ivy League University. We witness Kristina's affinity with the snow and how she liked to walk barefoot for as long as she could until the pain became too much, or how she liked to walk the bridge, dangerous and high, naked and drunk.
It is left to Spencer to piece together all that happened to Kristina. Each of her 3 friends have closed up, choosing to be vague and not volunteering any information. We witness how far people will go for love and the exact moment when that love tips to obsession. It's brutally sad, awful but mesmerising at the same time. The writing is delicate and precise, not a word used that does not have its place.
Spencer O'Malley is deeply flawed and you have to go on a little bit of trust with how the investigation is conducted. But ultimately the web of lies and secrets that the 3 friends have conjured, start to entrap O'Malley as well.
This has been a lovely catch up with an author I truly enjoy reading. So much so, that I have ended up ordering another one of her novels from my old favourite E-Bay. I would recommend this if you enjoyed Donna Tartt's Secret History. It has a similar feel - a group of troubled friends, a comment on wealth and beautiful landscapes. It's beautiful, atmospheric and sad and boy does it stay with you.