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The Red House: A Novel Mark by Mark Haddon
The set-up of Mark Haddon’s brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.
But because of Haddon’s extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family.
The Red House is a literary tour-de-force that illuminates the puzzle of family in a profoundly empathetic manner — a novel sure to entrance the millions of readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
An dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family, from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mark Haddon is a gifted writer who has a knack for taking a handful of characters you might not otherwise care about and making them somehow endearing. A typical – if not odd – mix of two related families (with various archetypes and underdogs) rents “The Red House” for a week. In many writer’s hands this sort of thing would be droll and nothing new, but Haddon mixes it up a bit with mental illness, incest, affairs, near-break-ups and even a coming-out story. If nothing else, they’re memorable and there are several key moments that happen to keep this tale lively and worth reading. The location is key as well, providing a bucolic, leafy Brit backdrop for the families to play out their drama.
Haddon does a lot of head-hopping, but it doesn’t matter. There’s not that many people to keep track of and within two chapters you get a sense of his rhythm and style. The writer intersperses the tale with paragraphs of prose and Annie Proulx-esque lists, which is a bit bothersome at times and does not necessarily help move the story forward. Consider them smaller works in a gallery of larger scenes and let it slide, the tale is worthy anyway. We see the story from several vantage points and Haddon’s voice is spot-on, especially when taking on the cliché of a mean teenage girl in one case or the confusion of jumping between religion and sexuality in another. I found his portrayal of the youngest child highly endearing and comical, exactly what one would expect from a boy that age.
While a bit difficult at first, eventually the book solidifies and it’s good literature that I’d come back to again. Recommended.
-By Addison Dewitt
It’s pretty clear from the first pages of The Red House that Mark Haddon is an extraordinarily gifted writer. He draws you in with a series of vignettes about a dysfunctional family, each told from a different point of view, thereby setting the stage for his account of a weeklong holiday in the English countryside that is equal parts reunion, discovery and reckoning. In addition to his remarkable facility with language–his prose is rich with just-right metaphors–he is profoundly insightful about human and especially family interactions, and the combination kept me engaged for the better part of the book’s 264 pages. The Red House may be fiction, but Haddon clearly has some experience with painful family dynamics.
When the book opens, Richard, a physician and the younger brother of Angela, has paid for his estranged extended family to converge on a cottage in Herefordshire. Their mother has recently died after suffering from dementia for some time, and the siblings haven’t seen each other for 15 years. Angela, who is married to philandering Dominic, has been primarily responsible for her care and resents Richard’s absence. Richard is accompanied by his second, trophy wife, Louisa, and Louisa’s sullen teenage daughter, Melissa. Angela and Dominic’s children, Alex, 17; Daisy, 16; and Benjy, 8, are along as well. Inevitably, old and new resentments soon simmer to the surface.
Throughout, Haddon maintains his storytelling technique of short vignettes from alternating perspectives, a risky strategy and one that mostly works, though occasionally it isn’t clear whose account we’re reading. There are elements of Rashomon, but the book doesn’t so much tell the same story from different points of view as it reveals the different back stories of the characters, each of whom experiences the vacation in different ways, by virtue of their flaws, ages, backgrounds and secrets. Organized by day–from Friday to Friday–it focuses on the inner thoughts more than the action, which means it’s more apt to appeal to aficionados of literary fiction than it is to readers who like their books fast-paced and action-packed.
All in all, a memorable read. Four and a half stars, with a half-star deducted for a few places where the story dragged. (It probably could have been a bit shorter.)
-By Grady Harp
This book is about families, with all their warts. The characters are rich and true to life. I work with a Melissa, have a Dominic in my family, and know an Angela. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and getting to know each of the characters. I wanted to hug Benjy and talk to Richard, Louisa, Alex, and Daisy. I felt sympathy for Angela and was glad I could easily avoid Melissa.
I was very pleased to receive this book from librarything.com’s Early Reviewer’s program. They often gift me with books, but almost always non-fiction. As a result, I expected to have to buy this one. I enjoy Haddon’s writing and love his wonderful, often quirky characters. Haddon is, like Annie Proulx, a writer who requires that you pay attention and be ready for his humor. He makes me laugh out loud with his biting wit. May he write for many, many years to come
The Red House was actually a nice easy read and I was surprised how fast I got through this book; this could have been all the blank pages throughout the book. While I never really connected with this book the writing styles used throughout this book were interesting and almost experimental at times. Some of it worked and some of didn’t, I think Mark Haddon was overly confident when he wrote this book and it seemed to come through in the novel. I’m sure many people will love and enjoy this book and don’t let my opinion stop you from reading it. For me I struggled making that connection and I tried and tried to enjoy this book but it just didn’t quite get there.
-By Michael Kitto
Amazon Link – http://amzn.to/LROMIJ
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