Writing about Reading: Red Phone Box
April 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” the old saying goes, and for the most part, that’s true—especially when you’re writing a novel-length story. Novels are usually written best by one or two authors; more than that, and it tends to turn into a jumbled mess.
That is precisely why Red Phone Box is so impressive. Edited by Salome Jones, Red Phone Box is a “darkly magical story cycle” written by 29 different authors—and for the most part, it works.
(Full disclosure: I won my copy of the book in a Twitter contest, and it is signed by most of the authors.)
The story begins in modern day London, and travels to other alternate Londons throughout the course of the book. The means to communicate with and travel to these otherwhens is via—you guessed it—a red phone box.
Each chapter is written by a different author (although some writers pen several chapters overall), so at first it seems like a collection of short stories centered around a phone booth. Soon, though, it becomes clear that all these characters are connected in some mystical way. Characters begin to recur across chapters and interact with other characters.
What starts as a jumble of thread slowly gets woven into an urban fantasy involving shapeshifters, wizards, Egyptian gods, and the everyday mortals that have somehow gotten pulled into the battle between the somewhat good and the cruelly evil. The broader story begins to emerge as the threads weave together and the tapestry begins to form.
The challenge of reading Red Phone Box is trying to keep track of who everyone is and what they were doing the last time you read about them. Fortunately, there’s a complete list of characters in the back to help you keep them all straight, but I did have to flip back to previous chapters at times to remind myself what a character was doing the last time they appeared. Ultimately, though, everyone is in one place and the story really blasts off.
Red Phone Box is filled with strange, colorful, frightening, and intriguing characters. It’s a fun book that is, by turns, funny and sad, mysterious and magical, sweet and horrifying—sometimes all in the space of a page or two.
One final note: I’m not sure if this is true of every printed copy of the book (mine is a special edition) but my copy is a pleasure to hold. The paper used is a heavy, glossy stock that’s smooth to the touch and gives the book a very pleasant heft. I don’t normally notice how a book is put together, but this one’s beautiful. Kudos to publisher Ghostwoods Books for printing a really gorgeous book.