Not long after their mother’s funeral, Richard invites his sister Angela and her family to vacation with him and his family in the English countryside. This doesn’t seem terribly interesting at first, but you must take into consideration that Richard and Angela have barely spoken nor seen each other in fifteen years. Angela’s children don’t know their Uncle Richard, his second wife Louisa or his step-daughter. This may make for an awkward holiday in and of itself… but the close quarters in the wide open space of the countryside exposes the insecurities and personal demons that each person is battling.
My first experience with Mark Haddon was with his well-known novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I instantly loved that book and its main character, and expected the same here. That didn’t quite happen. It took me much longer to get into this one, and now that I’m finished - I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. Haddon adopts a very unusual voice, a very simple narration that disguises the complex themes he is discussing here. It takes some getting used to; one character may hold the focus for a paragraph or two, and then the focus shifts without warning. There were times that I wasn’t sure who was speaking (or thinking) for an entire page, and then I’d have to go back and read it again once I’d figured it out. Then there would be passages from a book a character was reading or lyrics from a song one was listening to… just to keep you on your toes. It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I could clearly distinguish between characters within a few sentences. It doesn’t help that there are eight characters either.
Once I was able to get past that though, this is really one very thorough examination of a dysfunctional family. Each person is dealing with their own problems, unable to fully communicate with their family members. We are then more accurately looking at a family of individuals. The weeks’ vacation then is much more for each of them, and becomes more of a week of either self-discovery or of discovering each other as the case may be. The reader really gets to know the character as the character is realizing him or herself. The manner in which this happens, and the issues at hand, would make this book a hit with book clubs and discussion groups. I’m not saying that this is a book that everyone will love, but that it has plenty to talk about (you know, when you’re not worried about divulging spoilers!).
The Red House
by Mark Haddon
Knopf Doubleday, 2012
Source: Publisher for honest review
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