Cruel Pink is the sixth book in Tanith Lee’s loosely configured Colouring Book Series. All of the previous books in this series explore both odd psychology and odd situations in mostly realistic settings. The stories can, and do leap into the paranormal, but that isn’t their focus. The theme of color, often in lurid hues, is the overarching motif of the series. The books share a distant kinship with other liminal and cross-genre writers like Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathan Carroll. Elements of crime fiction, ghost story, horror story and even metafictional conceits all parade through the narratives.
Cruel Pink might be the strangest of the books so far. The novel is a symphony of voices across various times, a style most recently and famously used by David Mitchell in his Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten novels. The cast includes Emenie, a serial killer who lives in a post-apocalyptic future; Rod, an office worker in contemporary times; Klova, a young party girl living in a future society; and Irvin, a bisexual actor in the late 1700s. Each tells his or her story in conversational first person, and follows a day or a week in their lives.
As the novel progresses, coincidences begin to appear. It becomes quickly obvious that all four personae live in the same house just outside of London, but in separate times. And every now and then, they catch brief, ghostly echoes with each other. Also, the color pink in some form appears in each of their lives.
The book has ‘mood whiplash,’ like the Mitchell novels. Emenie’s sections are suspenseful and full of horror. Rod’s pieces are full of contemporary anomie. Klova ’s monologues describe a glittering semi-utopia and have erotic undertones, while Irvin’s life is full of ribald anecdotes.
The final denouement slots into place, courting but never becoming outright bathos. Cruel Pink, in the end, examines, almost playfully, narrative conventions in genre, flirting with both parody and homage.
Cruel Pink is compulsively readable and full of Lee’s trademark lovely language.