Luke is a teenager who wakes from a coma and discovers a kaleidoscope in his head. He thinks of it first as a magic eye picture puzzle, a stereogram. “Where you look at a pattern and force your eyes to relax, lose focus, go cross-eyed. If you succeed in this almost impossible letting go you suddenly see deep inside, behind, beyond the picture and a whole new world appears.” Luke’s doing more than seeing days as colours, tasting words and smelling thoughts, he is hallucinating. He sees the weasel lurking behind the doctor’s eyes, the wasps in his sister’s hair, crawling round her face and into her nose. As he becomes increasingly aware of the extent of his changed perceptions, Luke refines his analogy. This experience is more all-encompassing than the discovery of a hidden dimension: he feels that he is inside a computer looking out. The weird things in his head and on the screen are closest to him; the everyday world is at a distance. Then he notices Dreeg …
The phenomenon of synaesthesia gives Mondays Are Red an immediate attention-grabbing interest. Tuesdays are orange, “pale apricot ice-cream”, Wednesdays “sweet light green with a brown tinge like the apples my grandpa grows”. A Thursday might be lagoon blue, boiling blue or a dead blue deep, depending on Luke’s mood and the other happenings in his life on that day. Nicola Morgan’s exuberant language whirls us into a sudden, surreal world where emotion and perception are linked in previously unexpected ways.
This is not, as she points out in an afterword, the usual experience of synaesthetes, most of whom have been born with the condition (as possibly all babies are) and only gradually come to realise that their sensory experience of the world is not the same as the majority. Some people have realised their gift only as a result of reading Mondays Are Red or listening to Morgan speak. Others may have read first person accounts such as Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet, a savant who has learned how to manage the rare condition of numbers synaesthesia.
But Mondays Are Red is fiction. It’s a celebration of the creative power of words and tells a story of dramatic change. Luke is catapulted into his condition, spewed into it as if from the crater of a volcano. It is experientially and emotionally disconcerting. Luke soon becomes uneasy. “A tiny snake of strange fear hatched from its shell and flicked its tongue for the first time.” What is he to make of Dreeg, his guide in this strange place, but someone who dislikes his best friend and actively encourages him to hate his sister? Mondays Are Red is a Faust story: Luke has new powers but they come at a price. Can he develop the maturity and self-restraint to cope with his new situation?
Mondays Are Red is about growing up. Luke is a teenager overwhelmed not only by words but by emotions: by sexual attraction and disgust, by competitiveness, jealousy and anger. Like so many of the best young adult books it’s written for teenagers and also about them. Highly recommended to anyone ready to let themselves go down a linguistic, perceptual roller-coaster.
Reviewed by Julia Jones