The Red Beach Hut Shapes the Reader into the Perfect Devil’s Advocate

I have often been described as a ‘challenging’ person, something I will admit to freely and without shame. I believe that the nature of existence is to challenge our perceptions, thoughts and experience of the world around us.

Because of this, I am an active seeker of challenging, thought-provoking books, the more uncomfortable and controversial the better. In my humble opinion, those authors who seek to challenge the status quo and produce work which shakes up the reader’s point of view hold a special kind of magic. The conversations which result can and do change our world and the world of those around us.

A tale which seeks to start those conversations comes from Lynn Michell in the Red Beach Hut, published by Linen Press, the UK’s only independent women’s press. Over the last decade, Linen Press has established a reputation for passion, integrity and excellence and was shortlisted for the Pandora Women in Publishing prize in 2015. Linen Press has a history of innovation and is never afraid to push the boundaries and take a risk to share women’s voices with the world.

The Red Beach Hut is a poignant novel centred on the fleeting but powerful friendship between a boy and a man, both haunted by their own demons. Abbott is a man on the run from a homophobic cyber attack, caught in the sickening grip of a long buried mistake; Neville is a lonely boy, left to wander the beach in the evening, confused by the strangeness of his mother’s life and the men who pass through it.

Set in a tired English seaside town, this is a story about redemption but also our growing intolerance of those we perceive to be ‘different’; and sees compassion and honesty offset by bigotry and ignorance. Set at the time of the 2015 general election, this is a timely reminder of the nature of prejudice and the danger of narrow mindedness.

the Red Beach Hut is, at times, uncomfortable as it encourages the reader to consider both sides of a provocative argument

Lynn Michell has published 14 books including Write From the Start, an illustrated writing scheme for schools, Shattered, an acclaimed account of what it is like to live with ME, two books about mothering adolescents published by The Women’s Press, and three novels, White Lies, runner-up for the Robert Louis Stevenson award, Run, Alice, Run and The Red Beach Hut.

Michell’s latest work explores the reality of the horrors of the world around us and how we shape our view of others in response. Clearly not afraid of tackling controversial, topical social issues, in this case misgivings about the motives of Abbott, Michell weaves an eloquent and believable story which taps into the worst of our suspicions and our widespread concerns about predators and vulnerability.

As a result, the Red Beach Hut is, at times, uncomfortable as it encourages the reader to consider both sides of a provocative argument; on the one hand there is the redeeming friendship between a kind man and an uncherished boy, on the other a relationship between a stranger and a vulnerable child. The pull between these two viewpoints creates a deliciously interesting tension which keeps the reader questioning their own thoughts and feelings until the very last page.

The real strength of Michell’s writing is this ability to shape the reader into a perfect Devil’s advocate. Throughout the Red Beach Hut perspective shifts from warmth and compassion towards both Abbott and Neville, to frustration at Abbott’s risk taking, and concern about the guileless, open way Neville approaches a stranger. At it’s core, the Red Beach Hut is a thoughtful meditation on the nature of relationships, the instinctive kick of judgement and our need to connect with those around us.

The Red Beach Hut is a compassionate exploration of the complexity of human relationships

The tired and faded glamour of a costal town also adds to the intensity of the Red Beach Hut. In a town with little in the way of opportunity, tensions simmer and bitter small lives are in desperate need of excitement. When Abbott enters this maelstrom of small minded bigotry, mean spirited judgement and boredom, he inevitably causes a stir. There is also the romantic pull of the sea, seen by Abbott as a place for resurrection and redemption, an unforgiving but also ambivalent force which gives a rhythm to his days in self-imposed solitude.

Michell’s latest work encourages a critical exploration of the world, our views and how we target ‘outsiders’. A damning indictment about the indifference of society unless faced with an ugly nefarious villain to get our collective juices flowing, this is a book which will appeal to those who question our societal morality. It is also a well written, well-paced story which would be an easy read for anyone interested in fiction with a heart.

The Red Beach Hut is a compassionate exploration of the complexity of human relationships, a loving ode to the restorative power of friendship and an incisive commentary on the dark desire to label each other and the harm which can result from our misinterpretation.

The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell, published by Linen press, is available now.

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