Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Red House - Mark Haddon

I loved Mark Haddon's best seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I haven't read any of his other books, but based on that one read I was eager to pick up his latest - The Red House.

Richard and Angela are brother and sister living in England. They rarely see each other, but following the death of their mother, Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his sister, her husband and their three children to vacation with him for a week in the country side. Richard has recently remarried and his new wife and step daughter will also be there.

You can see lots of angst and fodder for thought in just the set up - estrangement, death, grief, family squabbles and more. Angela and her family are rife with problems.

I've had this book for a bit and have been picking it up and putting it down, unable to consume it at prolonged sittings. The book is told in a 'stream of conciousness' narrative. Each of the eight characters' thoughts and actions can appear at any time.  Many times it's not clear who is speaking - chapters begin with She for example. As I read further and began to know each character and their way of thinking it became easier to identify the current speaker. But, then sometimes Haddon throws in passages from a book someone is reading or lists of things that really have no bearing on anything.

The Red House has been leaping onto bestseller lists everywhere. I find myself feeling a bit lost, like the kid who doesn't get the joke.  For I found Red House disconcerting, disturbing and demoralizing by turns. Although I agree that Haddon's explorations of his characters' desires, needs and wants are quite intimate and thought provoking, I could only take so much at a sitting. Hence, the length of time it took me to finish the book.

There's no denying that Haddon has explored family dysfunction in great depth with an inventive vehicle to carry those observations.  However, there seemed to be no resolution from first page to last. The characters are still nursing the same angst as they were in the beginning. I realize that not every book needs to have a happy ending or ends all tied up, but I felt no sense of satisfaction on turning the last page. Rather, just relief that I had finished.

Read an excerpt of The Red House.


Mystica said...

I've only read the first book. I'd like to read this.

bermudaonion said...

I read one of Haddon's books - A Spot of Bother - and I felt lost when I read it too. I probably won't look for this one.