Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Books like Fire Colour One make me realise the inadequacy of my rating scheme. So let’s make a pact for the duration of this review: ratings do not exist. This is a book which, quite fittingly, flares and fades and sometimes – just when you find that point of stillness at the heart of the flame – this book gives you something quite wonderful. A book of contradictions? No. I think more a book that swells and lives in a way that is quite extraordinary but equally – complex.
Oh. I start and stop with this review. I am full of fragments. Perhaps then, it would be best to examine each of them on their own merit and hope that that brings some structure together for my thoughts on Fire Colour One.
One: the cover design is beautiful. Genuinely so. It is a book that pulsates with colour and life. This book looks so beautiful. It is exuberant and enticing and unusual.
Two: plot. Narrative. Story. Character. Fire Colour One has something of the Du Maurier about it; that sort of complex story of darkness and family and secrets and lies. It is a story that took me a long time to pin down – and as you can see by this review, I’m still in that process. But: Fire Colour One is life. Death. Moments of connection with family and friends and realising who and what you are going to be.
Three: Sometimes, I think, stories like this are some of the hardest to pin down from a reader’s space. I described it once as there being books which need to be read and books which don’t. Books which have a space for the reader, which need to be read in order to exist and books that do not.
And with a book like this, with its story of Iris who starts fires, her best friend who lives Art and Iris’ mother who loves and does not love, and her father who has days left to live and to rediscover the daughter he thought he’d lost, there are moments when this book does not need you. That is both a comment on the quality of life within Valentine’s narrative; the rich lyricism of her paragraphs, but also a comment on reading itself: I am a selfish reader. I want my reading to matter. It is sometimes complicated to marry that perspective to texts which are so resolutely alive without being read.
Four: Ratings. Good. Bad. Fire Colour One is an intriguingly complex experience; edible, joyful paragraphs, wild lines, and yet I struggled with it at times. It is a slow, fast read. It took me a few attempts to ‘get’ it; and I don’t think I have, yet.
Five: It is a book that feels like new space for both Valentine and young adult literature and that I welcome most hugely. This feels like a statement album book, a concept piece, a marker on the world, and I wonder (and can’t wait) as to what’s coming next.