Cruel Pink by Tanith Lee (book review).

Buildings have frequently had a distinctive part to play in fiction. The way a house is positioned, designed or furnished can greatly influence the human characters associated with it and how the reader perceives them. One of the best known buildings in fantasy literature is the sprawling confection of Mervin Peake’s ‘Gormenghast’. The gothic edifice shapes the characters that dwell within its walls. Having similar effects on the readers as well as residents and guests is the gloomy castle of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. More recently, the events in Lauren Beukes’s ‘The Shining Girls’ are focused around a particular house which seems to control the occupant and set him along a particular path to mayhem. Although not as wild and sprawling as the first two, Tanith Lee knows how to make a building an integral part of a story. In Greyglass, the house of that name has an organic quality, growing and changing to the needs of its occupants. Here in ‘Cruel Pink’, we have another building. It is not ordinary, because its residents are not ordinary.


The story is told from the point of view of several characters, for whom the only thing they have in common is the house where they live. All these people have an element of strangeness about them and they seem to live in different time periods, yet there are hints that their existence is simultaneous.

Emenie lives on the ground floor. She claims that the house used to belong to her grandmother. She styles herself a serial killer and lures people back to the house before dumping their bodies in the cellar.

This would account for the smell that Rod, who has a room on the first floor, sometimes notices. He seems, at first, the most ordinary of the tenants but has an obsession with routine and resents having to visit his aunt in Brighton or his uncle in Lewisham. There also appears to be something worrying in the wardrobe.

Across the hall from Rod is the flat occupied by Klova. Her world appears to be in the future as she lives entirely on state handouts and nightly goes to a club in a tall building designed for pleasure. Her life revolves around clothes, make-up especially her favourite pink lipstick and the sex that is casually available at the club.

Although these are characters whose lives are slowly revealed, we become aware that there are two more rooms in the attic floor of the house. Irwin lives in one with his largely straying dog. Strangely, he appears to be a thespian from the past. In the other attic is Dawn, an elderly lady whose faculties seem to be slowly degrading along with her surroundings.

This house, which seems to have residents from past, present and future, doesn’t actually appear to be that old, creating something of a mystery. Lee’s genius is in the way she gradually brings the lives of her characters together, telling their stories in parallel, building the connections that build up to the final reveal. There are elements here that could be discussed at length but only between those who have read the book. To say any more would spoil the pattern Lee has created.

‘Cruel Pink’ is not just the story of the residents of a house it is also an interesting and creative psychological study. Time spent with it is rewarding.

Pauline Morgan

November 2014

(pub: Immanion Press, Stafford, UK. 228 page enlarged paperback. Price: £11.99 (UK), $20.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-907737-49-7)

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