Book #14

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Angela and her brother Richard have spent twenty years avoiding each other. Now, after the death of their mother, they bring their families together for a holiday in a rented house on the Welsh border. Four adults and four children. Seven days of shared meals, log fires, card games and wet walks.

But in the quiet and stillness of the valley, ghosts begin to rise up. The parents Richard thought he had. The parents Angela thought she had. Past and present lovers. Friends, enemies, victims, saviours.

Haddon presents us with a stream of consciousness narrative, spanning the thoughts of eight people - all family - who are living in The Red House for a week. Intended as a restful break after the family matriarch dies, we see a brother and sister come together for the first time in years, dragging along their brood to join in the purposeful relaxation and bonding.

As can be expected when branches of family come together, the break isn’t as serene as they all had hoped. We see past conflicts come to the fore, contrasting personalities creating discord, and almost all of them begin to examine their own feelings and stances on each other, and their lives.

This is the type of character exploration I usually really enjoy. Delving into the minds of people, attempting to understand their behaviours and motivations, and best of all, learning their deepest secrets, is a balm to me. Haddon gave me a lot of this, and where the characters felt like cardboard on the first page, by the end I knew them all intimately. It was an excellent voyeuristic glimpse into this family.

Despite this, I had a few problems with the style. Points of view are varied across paragraphs, most of them incredibly brief, some of which have little to no indication of whose thoughts we’re currently privy to. Additionally, Haddon peppers passages of the books the family is reading, or adds paragraphs containing sheer nonsense, which contributes nothing to the plot but a mild irk in the reader.

If, like me, you’re a nosey bugger and the inner workings of family appeal to you, this is a worthwhile read. You’ll have to be prepared to skim over some glib and experimental meanderings, but you may find enough here in the complexities of relationships and secrets.