The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

Title: The Past is Red.
Writer(s)Catherynne M. Valente.
Format: Digital.
Release Date: July 20th 2021.
Pages: 160.
Genre(s): Science-Fiction.
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


For many, it’s tough to imagine the future without going through a meltdown. What does it have in store for me? Where will I be next? Will I be happy? Others look beyond themselves and worry about it through lenses that some would never think or dare to do. What’s my carbon footprint like? Am I doing enough to save this planet? Will it stay as green as we always imagined it? For one author, she offers a far-future where not everyone sees life the same way and perspective is what makes all the difference. Originally imagined in The Future is Blue, author Catherynne M. Valente revisits her original short story to expand her protagonist’s journey in a bleak post-apocalyptic world where the past and future put the present in perspective.

What is The Past is Red about? Set in a world where seas have submerged lands and leaving only a few territories free of its reach, the story follows Tetley Abednego in what she considers to be the most magical place in the world: Garbagetown. Split into two parts, the first one has her roaming around the garbage-filled home alongside her twin brother, while the second one looks at her lonely hermit life over a decade later. It is a tragedy that turns her life upside down at a young age, after having met up with a boy, that she finds herself on a strange yet twisted path where she constantly remembers her time and her unique vision of the world unlike anyone else.

“My name is Tetley Abednego and I am the most hated girl in Garbagetown.

— Catherynne M. Valente

I can’t say that I was fully immersed in this story despite the excellent world-building offered by author Catherynne M. Valente. She paints a vivid picture of a terrifying future that makes it difficult for anyone to not realize the waste, the neglect, and the ignorance that many humans have embraced regarding their planet. Without serving a moralizing story around climate change, she does an excellent job to convey the underlying and alarming issues pertaining to humans and their ignorant behaviours on Earth. It’s mostly through her fascinatingly unique protagonist that she’s also able to relativize the perception of this world built on garbage while also exploring the concept of hope in other characters who still dream to find and live on dry land. It’s the strange resilience shown by the protagonist that gives this world a unique flavour and, through her perception of the world and colourful voice, the story makes for a question-raising journey like none other.

Although the narrative structure is confusing more often than not, there is an interesting progression that shifts between past and present to help better comprehend the chain of events that led to the current state of affairs. The creative and highly imaginative prose filled with references to countless consumerist products of our time also makes for an interesting reading experience, despite being a bit heavy to indulge. The main character’s voice remains the single most powerful hook of this novella that really allows the story to be distinctive in its style and essence but it didn’t feel like it connected with me as much as I would’ve liked it to. There are some intriguing moments that appear throughout the story, mostly related to the world-building, as author Catherynne M. Valente does a fantastic job in depicting some truly original settings but the execution is what I mostly struggled with.

The Past is Red is an intriguing yet baffling journey into a bleak far-future post-climate apocalypse world that confusingly explores hope and change.

Thank you to Raincoast books for sending me a copy for review!



15 thoughts on “The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

  1. Waterworld, 2.0!

    Kevin Costner would proud that his bloated, self-absorbed dream lives on 😉

    You might have talked about this before, but how do you determine which books to read when publishers/authors send them to you? Or are they all solicited by you already so you’ve got a plan in place?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahaha I didn’t even think of that movie but it’s pretty much that! 😛

      I rarely get unsolicited books but I squeeze them in when I can and if I do accept them. Most of the other books are books that I request out of curiosity. In this case, I was curious about the author’s other book, Deathless, for years and thought, why not try a novella first to see what her writing’s like.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review Lashaan! It seems that climate change is the underlying premise for a lot of new literature these days and of course that makes a lot of sense. However, an interesting and highly topical premise isn’t enough for me, I also want a solid and captivating story. Sounds like this one doesn’t quite deliver.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I’ve started hearing more and more of them, especially in fantasy stories, and it’s definitely a nice premise to work with. For a novella, it does achieve a lot but for me, it doesn’t execute it in a way that would’ve made me want a sequel if there were ever to be one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve wanted to try Valente’s work for quite a while now. I don’t have this one but do have a few others in ebook form, so I’ll likely start on one of those. It’s always great getting to compare the thoughts of different folks after reading the same book and how some will love it, others hate it, and others only somewhat enjoy it. What will I think of it? Well, there’s only one way to find out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually always wanted to read Deathless but never got around to it. I thought this novella would give me a good idea of her writing style and creativity so I went ahead to try it before. I can’t say it convinced me of anything in particular but I still look forward to trying Deathless someday now hahah I hope your experience with this author will be fully positive when you get around to it, Todd! Thanks for reading. 😀


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