The Red Hairband by Catherine Greene

A dystopian tale in three parts, The Red Hairband by Catherine Greene is set in Great Britain, in three different time periods. The first section, set in the future, follows a girl named Evie. As a young child, she lives in some sort of school community, where the rules are plentiful and strict. As we read on, we learn that this is some kind of community in the country of New Britain, which was formed after devastating floods. In New Britain, the government has tried to reimagine the composition of society in order to make it more sustainable in a more dangerous world, but the structure and the rules are challenging to follow. Young Evie shows some spirit, such as holding her friend’s hand (not permitted after age 7) and taking a red hairband when out scavenging one day. Fast forward some years, and a young adult Evie is sent out to an out-country community to report back on their activities and provide assistance to the community.

“Ultimately, The Red Hairband is an interesting experiment in dystopian fiction.”

The second part is set in the present and follows Laura, a new mother who’s struggling to connect with her baby. What looks like run-of-the-mill post-partum depression becomes more troubling as her baby speaks to her – and tells her things about the future she would have no way of knowing in that moment. Laura can’t decide if it’s real or she’s losing it.

The third part, Bertram’s section, is set in the future, some years after Evie’s section. There’s been a revolution in New Britain and Evie has somehow become a martyr to a religious group. Bertram sets out to piece together her story, to restore the historical record.

The Red Hairband is a weird book. That’s not a bad thing, it just is. Evie’s section was the hardest to read because of the disconnect between child Evie and adult Evie: the loss of freeness in her spirit was distressing, and so was her strict adherence to the rules of New Britain. Greene’s strongest, most chilling writing in this book comes from Evie’s section. Laura’s section is a great exploration of motherhood and the ways we dismiss women’s concerns about their health. Though none of the messaging is subtle or new, Greene does a great job in documenting Laura’s spiral and treatment by the people around her. The third part, Bertram’s section, is the one which felt the weakest to me. It’s inconclusive, which is fine, but the exploration of Evie’s life and the time travel aspect felt underdeveloped. Here, I found that the book was doing too much to try and tie up the loose ends of the first two sections.

Ultimately, The Red Hairband is an interesting experiment in dystopian fiction. The nature of the three sections, which were three very different depictions of societal collapse at different stages, is a fresh look at how our understanding of the world can vanish and the power struggles and beliefs which fill the void left behind. Greene uses plausible scenarios to explore how a country might fall into authoritarianism during a period of environmental instability and disaster. It wasn’t always completely successful for me, but it was a thought-provoking, compelling read.

Since an early age, Catherine Greene has been fascinated by totalitarian regimes and the ways in which they use utopian dreams to subvert people’s sense of morality. This book is an exploration of this theme. It has been a longstanding ambition of Catherine’s to become an author, but it wasn’t until she returned to university later in life that she felt able to write coherently. She has had a varied career including working as a journalist, an academic, and latterly as an ethics consultant. She lives in Kent with her husband and son and enjoys walking in the countryside, camping, and TV she’d be embarrassed to be caught watching.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Guernica World Editions (Sept. 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771838167
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771838160