“I loved Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, which is a very beautiful novel.
There seems to be some unnecessary confusion as to its form or genre. You can see that in the front matter of the American edition, in which it is described as “like no other history book,” “a collection of stories,” “’faction’,” “part detective story,” “a set of artfully interwoven genres,” “the least promising fictional material of all time,” “reverse magical realism,” and “half novel/half history”. Of course it does not help that the first words of the novel are “This is not a novel. There is too much to explain…”
All wrong. There is always too much to explain, and yet novels are still novels. They have an immense capacity to include and shape all aspects of the real. Red Plenty is not even a particularly unusual novel, in terms of length, complexity, self-awareness, historical inclusions, bricolage technique, or any other matters of style or content. Shall we say Moby Dick is not a novel, or War and Peace? No we shall not. Red Plenty is a novel like they are, and should be discussed as one.
All right. Getting past the first sentence: what I particularly liked in Red Plenty is the way it humanizes a mysterious and convulsive mass of recent history. It’s a tremendous demonstration of what a great diagnostic power the novel can wield in the hands of a strong novelist. You could call it an outstanding example of socialist realism, in that its critique of the Soviet experiment also contains a deep sympathy for the experiment’s goals, and for the many people who continued to struggle for those goals to the end, despite the worsening circumstances. It should be read together with F.V. Gladkov’s Cement to make that point clear. It should also be read in the context of science fiction, historical fiction, alternative history, Soviet modernisms, and steampunk. This would be to put it in the context of other similar works, where it will always shine and illuminate.
And it is so full of characters I cared about, described in a precise emotional language. A moment came for me, in the chapter called “Midsummer Night, 1962,” when the book took flight and soared into that space where we live other lives and hear other people’s thoughts, and feel their feelings. Now I too have been there! This is what novels do, and I insist Red Plenty is a novel because it strengthens our sense of the form to have this book included in it.”