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An dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time 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 overBut because of Haddon's extraordinary narrative techniue 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

10 thoughts on “The Red House

  1. says:

    I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and A Spot of Bother so I was very excited once I heard about this novel and then became utterly disappointed with what a chore this one is to read It's told in a stream of consciousness style when eight people get together an estranged brother and sister and their two families for a week of vacation after the brother and sister's mother died The point of view shifts from one person's interior thoughts to the next from one paragraph to another but often the switch occurs within a paragraph Countless times throughout the book you have to re read sections to figure out whose point of view it is and a several times it's impossible to guess Often there are passages when we get excerpts of what someone is reading and you can't always be sure which character it is While this may be interesting the first few times it uickly becomes tedious Then there are riffs like this oneMarja Helmand The sniper far back enough from the window to stop sun flaring on the rifle sight Crack and kickback A marine stumbles under the weight of his red buttonhole Dawn light on wile horses in the Kentii Mountains Huddershfield brown sugar bubbling in a tarnished spoon Turtles drown in oil The purr of binary a trillion ones and zeroes The swill of bonds and futures Reckitt Benckiser Smith and Nephew Rifts and magma chambers Eyjafjallajokull smoking like a witch's cauldronIt goes on like this for many lines I'm not sure what it's supposed to be descriptions of all that's going on in the world while these 8 people try to make sense of their lives?Late in the book we just get a long list of every item in a novelty shop the characters visit It was fun when Tim O'Brien used that trick in The Things They Carried because each person's possessions revealed their personality but I'm not sure what knowing all the curios in this paritcular curio shop does for me or any of the charactersIt's too bad because the characters' dilemmas the sister is going crazy over memories of her deformed stillborn baby her ambition less husband is having an affair the brother is learning his wife has secrets and he has to be a better husband are all very interesting not to mention the children's various problems the most interesting of which is a teenage girl coming to a slow realization of her sexual orientation There was enough tension and character development in the book to make it somewhat worthwhile but you have to have a lot of patience for artsy fartsy writerly technigues to get through it Some readers might like the experimentation but I obviously am not one of them

  2. says:

    After attending several writing workshops in recent months I've noted the popularity of fragmented stream of consciousness writing among men of a certain demographic White aged somewhere between skinny hipster and the first thickening of the waistline well educated enad of morose Sisyphean humor à la David Sedaris or oh let's say Mark Haddon They write to a beat disguising punchlines of angst in scattered phrases that connect like poetry but which strive to convey plot and character It sounds really cool when read aloud; you get lost in the riffs and the rhythms of postmodern paragraphs But I'm not convinced it makes for good story When a writer of Mark Haddon's skill approaches a story using similar techniues you can count on something pretty remarkable For within the randomness of phrases the phrases that fall away to ellipses the ellipses that join ever changing points of view you are presented with warm nutty tortured and scarily familiar characters And the characters are what I adore about The Red House In his latest take on Tolstoy's famous Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way Haddon reunites a mildly estranged sister and brother in a house hidden in a remote Welsh valley For the week's holiday at The Red House the siblings bring their spouses and children Everyone's emotional baggage is packed tight with hang ups hurts secrets and silliness The children sparkle with complexity and empathy Their individual storylines and the prickly and sweet ways the author brings the characters together and plays them against each other rings true I'm far less enad of the relationships between the spouses but the interactions between siblings and spouses in law are hilarious and painful hilariously painful because they are so real How awkward and anxious we are with those whom we are forced by blood or marriage to spend time How often they are people we would never choose to befriend but we have to figure out a way to love them all the same Haddon is a master of making readers fall in love with his characters despite our better judgment There is no central protagonist or narrator of The Red House The points of view shift rapidly between the four adults three teenagers and an eight year old boy Haddon explores their thoughts and in doing so reveals their characters It's not difficult to keep up or make the switch between voices; rather it's a thrill being on the Haddon emotional rollercoaster But honestly the fragmented paragraphs the jittery sentences the lists book excerpts the contents of a second hand shop just don't work for me Fortunately Haddon eases up on the clutch as the book continues and the jerky ride smoothes out but I admit to a fair amount of skimming through these bits They're boring They read like those Now let's share our work with the class moments when the bespectacled software designer wearing threadbare checked Vans spins out his clever three hundred word response to a writing prompt It sounds just awesome but is utterly incomprehensible and bears no resemblance to a story I'd go for 3 12 stars here It's a good read You can sift out the pretentious parts if you'd like They aren't my thing but they may be yours The rest we'll probably agree is purt near pitch perfect

  3. says:

    This Sound and the Fury wannabe actually really truly signifies nothing But it's not wholly without merits The prose is immersive as everyone in their little worlds start to fall apart just as they barely begin to come together

  4. says:

    I liked the ride on this one a lot though I can’t easily predict which friends would be eually pleased There is a lot to be said about trusting a good chef to know what to serve So one should release expectations before cracking this book There is no wondrous Asperger savant kid in this one nor hapless and resilient man with a humorous Walter Mitty like interior monologue Here we get an extended dysfunctional English family actually the families of two siblings thrown together on a holiday in rural Wales and a lot of stream of consciousness among the 4 adults three teenagers and an 8 year old There is little in the way of humor Maybe this doesn’t seem a promising premise to many readers but I felt it was uite a powerful slice of life with a lot of heart wisdom and interesting character development The magic for me lies in Haddon’s use of nearly eual perspectives from the minds of eight characters Before you object to stream of consciousness writing based on your fill from so many masters of decades gone by you have to admit that if a writer really wants to portray the life of a person they have to at some level emulate the way their mind works And if your inuiry reaches toward what a family means then a book bent on recreation of the symphony of minds could have some attractions for you But where is the grounding in this approach? The raw and personalized perceptions the private hurts the poisonous thoughts and the secret desires in this ensemble uickly looks like it will spin this world out of control Yet even though each character is flawed and variously messed up with emotions of jealousy grief guilt lust religious yearnings or despair you name it the whole human nine yards each takes steps either to improve their situation or to vouchsafe a path to continue bumbling along helped along through strife or cooperation with each other It feels a little like development in a terrarium a fertile microcosm of the human raceI appreciated Kingsolver’s use of different family voices young and old to tell a tale from different perspectives in her “Poisonwood Bible” There is some of that same pleasure in this book for me In both books when dark private realities come to light there is eventually a surprising broad convergence on mutual understanding For example a mother obsesses over a stillborn child from 18 years ago and how it drives her to imagine the daughter alive and growing in the present Her living daughter struggles to come to terms with her lesbian leanings and the undermining of her fundamentalist faith Despite the tenuous nature of the family bonds and their limited doses of moral courage the secrets are digested by the family and taken in stride Haddon seems to be revealing how a family as a whole can be than the sum of its parts I understand how some readers can be frustrated with a bit of a game Haddon plays when he doesn’t always identify the character who lies behind a particular thought process he unfurls In Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” or Joyce’s “Ulysses” you didn’t have such challenges And sometimes an omniscient observer breaks through which some might judge to detract from the realism of the immersion I think these devices lighten the load a bit in the same way the Wizard of Oz did when he punctured Dorothy’s desperate bubble Here are a couple of examples or maybe they are from the mind of one of the characters; some scholar could enlighten me“One person looks around and sees a universe created by God who watches over its long unfurling marking the fall of sparrows and listening to the prayers of his finest creation Another person believes that life in all its baroue complexity is a chemical aberration that will briefly decorate the surface of a ball of rock spinning someone among a billion galaxies And the two of them could talk for hours and find no great difference between each other for neither set of beliefs makes us kinder or wiser”“Time speeds upA day becomes an hour becomes a minute becomes a second Buildings inhabit the earth growing like spores sending out tubers seeding new towns new villages new cities till they all are drowned in sand or jungle”

  5. says:

    Extreme speed datingWhat’s on your iPod right now?PINGIf you were a book title what would you be?PINGWhat’s your worst memory from childhood?PINGDo you have any memories from childhood?PINGIf you could own an owl like Harry Potter’s Hedwig what would you call it?PINGWhy are you vegetarian? Why aren’t you vegetarian?PINGIs there anyone here who hasn’t tried to kiss Melissa?PINGWhat was the last message on your phone?PINGCan you make a rocket out of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda?PINGIs Karen haunting you?PINGDon’t worry that’s a different Karen I’m still aliveLike democracy the family is the worst form of living together except for all the others Putting a highly dysfunctional family into the hothouse of a week’s holiday in Herefordshire sounds like a toxic brew and I thought this was going to be dire Family members who barely know one another the in laws can be such a tricky relationship stepchildren demon teenagers ghosts from the past insecurity resentment what is to be expected but a series of slanging matches and tantrums? But astonishingly the manic flitting from one character’s point of view to another’s like speed dating on crack actually works and works so brilliantly that each one sneaks under the skin and into the heart Every one is a fully realised figure with a credible back story and there’s nary a one who’s unlikeable even if most of them are shits and arseholes The incredible part is the concentration of problems within eight people and the way that Herefordshire works a bit like the Betty Ford clinic ridding the inmates of their toxic habits or at least nudging them to health Go on it’s a story not a case study It’ll do and very nicely thank you

  6. says:

    It’s hard to review a book like this; Mark Haddon is a very talented writer and he has some brilliant techniues employed into this novel However I can’t help comparing this book to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and ultimately I think this book lacked something to make this book great With the huge success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time I can’t help but think that Mark Haddon has gotten overly confident with his writing While it was refreshing and enjoyable to read a book with so many interesting writing techniues; I never really connected with the plot or the characters I was so excited about reading another book by this author and I feel I made a rookie mistake by going into a book with such high expectationsThe Red House is the story about a well off physician Richard and his new family recently married a woman with a sixteen year old daughter taking a vacation Richard invites his sister Angela and family to join them as they hadn’t seen each other since the funeral of their mother fifteen years ago Angela’s husband Dominic and three children are not as well off as Richard and took advantage of the offer as they wouldn’t be able to afford a vacation any other way Together for a week in a rented cottage in Wales starts to show the cracks in everyone’s relationship and exposes just how dysfunctional the family really isMark Haddon is contently switching between narrators in this book I think I counted eight different points of views throughout this book might be and one of those was an all seeing third person narrative With the narrative always changing and each character only giving a glimpse of an insight this book started off a little confusing and hard to keep track of all of the main characters One thing I’ve found that Haddon did in this book as well as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time that I really liked was that he wasn’t afraid to expose the inner voice of each character and allowing the reader an insight into the flaws and thoughts of each one of the characters There were also a lot of references to pop culture within this book that was uite enjoyable to read; especially all the references to each book the main characters were readingThe 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 uite get thereThis review was originally posted on my blog;

  7. says:

    The first 40 pages were tedious and the next 60 were not much better but after that the author seems to find a workable rhythm and attempts to figure out a novel's form for his ideas One of the main problems is that Haddon seems to have graduated from the Bronte school of fiction and his use of descriptive adjectives is way beyond my ability to tolerate I could have done without phrases like The swill and chatter of water on page 144 or Bruised purple sky wind like a train the landscape suddenly alive trees bent and struggling swaths of alternating color racing through the long grass the sky being hauled over the valley like a blanket Page 177 If you are young you might think that is good writing the truth is that it is notThere is also a weakness in the characterizations Most of the characters spend the length of the book as one dimensional beings; making the story flat The words that spew from their mouths made me feel the pretention of the author This is not a smart novel it is not a fluid novel and by no means is it an interesting novel Toward the end of the novel the character of Angela almost steps up and becomes believable yet in the end she settles back to be uninterestingThis is a book about death it begins with a death but nowhere is the struggle with this most human of problems made effective The author provides lip service to a concept of death but he falls short and it is my opinion that the subject matter was beyond him Perhaps he should have remained with children books

  8. says:

    I was genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to read the new novel by Mark Haddon Like millions I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time I really enjoyed A Spot of Bother too I liked the idea behind this book A brother and sister holiday together after their mother’s death taking their children with them to spend a week in a rented holiday cottage on the Welsh border near Hay on Wye The siblings Angela and Richard aren’t at all close so we realise that this may be an uncomfortable week and sit back with some relish to discover the clashes and confrontations that may occur in amongst the attempts at forced friendliness There are eight characters in all and the narrative brings together the thoughts and conversations of all eight of them Angela and husband Dominic and their three children teenagers Alex and Daisy and young Benjy and Richard and his new wife Louisa and her teenage daughter Melissa There is also the additional character who features prominently in Angela’s thoughts her stillborn daughter Karen In one sense the author’s use of so many different voices is a wonderful approach as it gives us eight different perspectives on things eight very individual characters all with their different anxieties and concerns for us to discover We see how each of them interacts with the other family members when all suddenly thrust together at such close uarters for a week For all of them the time away sees them thinking about what is really happening in their lives and exposes the realities of their lives the shortcomings in their friendships and relationships; the truths behind things that are normally shelved away at the back of the mind during daily life come creeping to the fore here There are some keen insights into how the generations view each other; there is one moment where teenager Daisy actually realises her mother is a human being but only for a moment – she soon becomes just her mother again And when Melissa the same age as Daisy realises that she hates something her father has suggested to her about her life predominantly because she sees that it may well be true and that is unbearable On the other hand this number of perspectives makes for rather a disjointed narrative jumping from one person to another sometimes every page or even often Additionally the author has added in excerpts from books the characters are reading mentions of the music they are listening to aspects of the house’s history which does add another dimension to the characters and the setting but again halts the flow of the narrative significantly Further we have the character’s random thoughts about past events and people in their lives There are also passages where there are various thoughts or ideas expressed in a ‘uick fire’ way a barrage of words hitting us It felt like the presiding view was a rather gloomy outlook on life and the world overall which actually felt realistic and accurate to me; at the end of the day this is what people are like full of insecurities regrets anxieties and the author captures that so well here It is a thought provoking read and it is perceptive at times poignant and certainly insightful I felt from reading the premise that I would love this story and I jumped in eagerly I very much admire anyone who can write a novel and I always hesitate to say I didn't love a book but somehow this one wasn’t uite a favourite for me despite many aspects of it which I admired

  9. says:

    While the premise to this novel was deeply interesting The Red House is not only confusing and choppy in style but also irritatingly difficult to relate to or even really stay immersed in It wasn't necessarily the story itself so much as the writing style and very predictable simple characters Their connections and troubles are clearly written out yet there's very little complexity to them nor is much of their inner thoughts or emotion shownI did like the basic plot of the book but the writing is a bit pretentious and rambles on with long drawn out observations to the point where it hinders the story from continuing It ended up seeming much longer than it really was

  10. says:

    Once again Mark Haddon demonstrates his remarkable ability to hone tight true and fascinating glimpses of humanity through the simplest and most mundane of situations The Red House is enjoyably engaging with a deep dark undercurrent a beautiful blend of the mundane and esoteric in the most everyday of circumstancesAn extended family spend a first holiday together in a rural cottage Estranged for 15 years Richard and his sister Angela meet again at their mother's funeral then Richard invites Angela and her family to share a family holiday near Hay on Wye The Red House is a ship of fools story in which not very much happens on the outside inside the heads of the characters lies a whole other world; everyone of course has a secret a trauma everyone has their own demons to exorcise and to say about any one of them would be to spoilAs so often with Haddon's work it's the child who has all the best lines 8 year old Benji 'a kind of boy liuid which had been poured into whatever space he happened to be occupying' is the most engaging and likeable character Refreshingly honest Benji serves as the Voice of naïve Truth amidst the secrets lies and double dealings of the adult's interactions An omniscient point of view takes us into the minds of each character as an individual and Haddon's trademark misunderstandings each individual never truly sees the motivation of any of the others run like a dark thread through the intricate tapestry of the whole emphasising the solitude of each human existenceEverything is graced by Haddon's astonishing writing The detail of a week in a Welsh cottage blighted by rain and unrelieved boredom is exuisitely described 'Scrabble a tatty box in some drawer a pack of fifty one playing cards a pamphlet from a goat farm'`Cooling towers and sewage farms Seventy miles per hour the train unzips the fields Two gun grey lines beside the river's meander Flashes of sun on the hammered metal Something of steam about it even now Hogwarts and Adelstrop The night mail crossing the border That train smell burning dust hot brakes the dull reek of the toilets''The bandage on the vicar's hand that woman chasing her windblown hat between the headstones the dog that belonged to no one'Nathaniel Parker's narration is wonderfully understated each character comes through clearly defined without the need for 'voices' or over dramatised characterisation Sublime