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The Red House Hardcover – 12 June 2012
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- Publisher : Doubleday (12 June 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 264 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385535775
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385535779
- Dimensions : 16 x 2.79 x 24.13 cm
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Top reviews from Australia
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This story is more solemn and dark with diverse characters, some likeable, some not so likeable.
I was disappointed only because my expectations were not met.
Twas an interesting storyline and very real, just not what I expected.
Neither couple expects this to be a jolly family get-together, but they intend to make the best of it. Four adults, three teens and an eight-year-old are gathered in close quarters, all having issues, worries or problems that are slowly revealed to a greater or lesser audience. In between (or sometimes during) meals, walks, excursions, activities and leisure, there are confessions, confrontations, accusations, revelations, tantrums and tears.
And what a feast of emotions and attitudes Haddon heaps on his characters: resentment at carrying the burden of elder care; confusion over sexual orientation; insecurity about a partner’s true feelings; enduring grief over a stillborn baby; worry over possible professional misconduct charges; teenage lust; and guilt, lots of guilt, over an extra-marital affair, over previous promiscuity, over bullying, over poor parenting.
While the adults and teens all have their very human flaws, and their words and actions are often easy to comprehend, if not always excuse, it is eight-year-old Benjy, earnest, thoughtful and wholly good, who cannot fail to both tug at the heartstrings and to delight in equal measure.
Even though nothing terribly dramatic happens over the week, and the pace of the story is quite sedate, by Friday, everyone’s lives have been changed to some extent. There are rejected kisses, a sprained ankle, hypothermia from exposure, a ghost, a stuffed owl, canoeing, bookshops, makeshift swords, desperate texts, and unreliable memories.
Haddon establishes the era with occasional, almost haphazard passages of current events, movies, music, crazes and world affairs; he treats his readers to some gorgeous descriptive prose: “A great see-saw of light balanced on the fulcrum of Black Hill, the sun rising on one end, the other end sweeping down the flank of Offa’s Dyke and switching the colours on as it went”. This is a novel somewhat reminiscent of those by David Nicholls, enjoyable and thought-provoking.
Top reviews from other countries
The premise, a disparate family forced to be together for a week, with no decently easy escape; is intriguing, but the delivery so differently written and awkward, the tantalising central appeal was sabotaged. I was truly ready to be swept up in this domestic drama, one of my favourite genres; that's why I chose it. I tried hard to connect, anchor myself in, and sort out the various family members who are thrown at us at great speed. That took many pages.
Following the death of their alcoholic demented widowed mother; Richard, who is a magnanimous medical man, struggling with his own demons, decides to get to grips with/offer an olive branch to his emotionally estranged teacher sister Angela and her family. "Angela and Richard had spent no more than an afternoon in each other's company over the last fifteen years".
Angela's `recovering from a breakdown' househusband is the carelessly guilty Dominic; their children are testosterone fuelled Alex (17), newly religious Daisy (16), and Benjy, just a bouncy, bothered boy (8). Lingering around, constantly at the edge of Angela's mind, is the ghost of their eighteen years ago Sirenomelia afflicted and stillborn daughter, Karen.
Richard's new wife is Louisa, who, suffering from briefly being marked out as being a little WAG-like, makes him stepfather to smouldering Melissa, love/lust object to two of the party. The air must be cleared all round and hopefully the family will emerge as kinder more thoughtful people by the end of the week. This to me was the message of the book. It's easy to hold a fixed opinion about a person until you are faced with them day in day out and can learn to see the whole picture.
The holiday rental, the title role, sourced and paid for by Richard, is on the Welsh Border, near Hay-on-Wye. Converging upon The Red House, the blue touch paper, together with the stove, is lit. I wanted to know much more about this place - sadly only lazily portrayed as a cliché riddled two dimensional rough draft of a holiday cottage - tatty Scrabble game in a drawer, 51 playing cards, job lot of prints on the walls, dreary cast off books on the shelves, twee visitors book entry about a deer in the garden, a mistakenly unsecured owners cupboard filled with odd objects of value to them. I needed the house and surrounds to at least gradually come to some kind of life. Apart from a brief early morning visit from a fox and some scarey plumbing descriptions it just lay there dead.
Memories, from all corners, push their way up to the surface. Rebalancing and shifting of attitudes is required. Revelations surprise and illuminate. Everything reaches the boil, secrets, yearnings, and fears; as this mix simmers away we are treated to some pretty gross teenage detail; there my eyes started skimming the text instead of reading it. Too much information. Brief excitements of at last some comprehensible drama begin to pepper the dreadfully disorganised text. Constantly having to work which of the eight was talking/thinking became exhausting. It began to feel as though The Red House was actually a jumbled up jig saw, possibly with pieces missing, such as you might find in a stereotypical holiday cottage...
I don't know whom this is meant to be for. I (61) did really enjoy and relish the last two books by Mark Haddon. So I have previously been in his sights. Perhaps when you have two monster successes editors leave you to it and the blurb writes itself. I looked up the Random House synopsis, which began with the word `brilliant', followed by the bleakly useful phrase `extraordinary narrative technique'. We are promised that it is `sure to entrance the millions of readers' of previous two novels. Well not this one at any rate, sorry to say. Reading it was like pushing water uphill.
N.b. for a master class in the dilemmas of a doctor, family guy; time framed into one day and not a week, Saturday still stands out in my bookish memory. Perhaps Richard was even based on Henry Perowne?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 22, 2012 8:17 PM GMT
A mother has died. Her two surviving children meet at a farmhouse outside Hay-on-Wye. The daughter has with her an indifferent husband and three markedly different children, while her brother has his new wife and challenging stepdaughter in tow. The clash of these factions and the detritus they drag with them is the subject of Haddon's study. Reported, like a diary, the tantrums and tedium of family holidays unfold with alarming familiarity.
Yet, seeing the immediate shortcomings of such a post-Joanna Trollope world, Haddon chooses a engagingly adumbrated style. Often incongruous lists, smashed conversations and omniscient chunks of prose without clear character ownership unfold his palimpsest of passion and regret. Everyone has a voice, from the assumed authority figure of Richard (a successful medical consultant with a negligence case in the offing) through to Benjy (a violently imaginative 8 year old). It's to Haddon's considerable credit that none of them is authorially short changed.
The thrust of the narrative therefore emerges in its characters' inability to understand their companions' motivations and histories. Rather than a meeting of minds, The Red House offers a battle of wills. Old grudges die hard and new ones fix themselves just as permanently on the familial horizon. And, when told with Haddon's stylistic aplomb, such a Chekhov-meets-crunchy-nut-corn-flakes character study sparkles.
Perhaps it's a case of me enjoying the story, but not the way in which it is written. Overall I don't think I would either recommend or not recommend the book. What I would recommend is fir a prospective reader to trial a chapter before commuting to the book.
'A stream of conscience' is a phrase I have repeatedly read in reviews of this novel. It's an accurate description. Haddon's poetic style is blindingly realistic about the way people think and grapple with understanding themselves and others.
Two halves of an extended family come together for a cottage holiday in Wales. Haddon explores each member's hopes, fears, motivations and idiosyncrasies.
It's moving, funny and sad. But above all, it's honest.
Don't expect a tale in which real life is re-fashioned into a palatable story conforming to the artificial conventions of popular novels.
Stick with this book and it'll stick with you.