Book Review: “The Red House” by Mark Haddon

Jun 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "The Red House" by Mark HaddonNot 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

272 pages

Source: Publisher for honest review

*****

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Book Review: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer

May 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran FoerIt has been two years since 9/11.  Oskar Schell is ten years old, and lost his father Thomas in the tragedy, and he is obviously still dealing with his loss.  Who wouldn’t be?  But one day, Oskar finds a key among his father’s belongings and believes it is one last mystery his father had left for him to solve.  As Oskar searches for the lock that will fit the key all over New York City, he slowly heals and allows himself to feel his grief.

I think this is the first novel I’ve read that deals specifically with the aftermath of 9/11.  I can’t believe that it has been almost 11 years since that terrible day when thinking about it, remembering still hurts so much. My heart just aches.  Oskar puts a face to just one of the stories of those directly affected – sure he is a fictionalized character, but it isn’t a tough stretch to believe in a kid who lost his father; his father who just happened to have a meeting in that building that morning.  The way that Oskar’s grief manifests itself in his personality is heartbreaking.  He is carrying so much inside of him.  His mother, his grandmother, his therapist all so their best to help…  but it is this challenge that is metaphorically and literally the key to Oskar’s grief.

A secondary story line is uncovered that involves Oskar’s Grandmother, her husband, her sister, and the thousands of lives lost in the bombing of Dresden at the time of her youth.   There is also an elderly mute man who factors into the story, and with Oskar’s as well.  I’ll admit that this subplot was confusing to me at first, then made me feel sad, and finally all out depressed.  Balancing the bombing of Dresden against the bombing of the World Trade Center (with a tangent concerning the horrors seen at the atomic bombing of Nagasaki) pushed me right past my emotional threshold.  I began to feel so much, that I finally felt hollow and spent.

For this reason, I did not enjoy reading this book at all.  Each time I went to pick the book up to continue, I did so with trepidation.  What horribly sad thing was to happen now??  The writing is awesome, the characters are more than you could hope for… and it is all so great that reading was not a likable experience for me.  I should also mention, in the interests of full disclosure, that while I was reading this book, there was a sudden death of a beloved family member.  That upended my state of emotional well-being, and I think that my opinion of this book has been affected by that as well.   In fact, I do remember finding humor in some of Oskar’s conversations and thoughts when I had first started the book…  but I lost them, after.

*****
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Mariner Books, 2006.  First published 2005.
326 pages
Source:  Borrowed from my cousin
*****
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