Helena Halme's Reviews > The Red House

The Red House by Mark Haddon
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Sep 16, 2012

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Read in September, 2012

You know how someone else’s holiday snaps can be a little boring? In Mark Haddon’s The Red House, two more or less dysfunctional families share a holiday cottage in the Welsh valleys. There is no-one but each other to talk to, even the mobile signal is poor, which upsets both the teenagers of the family as well as a few of the adults.

The two families consist of Richard, a newly married hospital consultant, his wife and teenage step daughter, as well as Richard’s sister Angela and her husband and three children. Angela and Richard have recently lost their mother, but having not been close since their childhood, one wonders what on earth would make these two people want to go on holiday together.

During this idyllic holiday each member of the cast conveniently has some kind of epiphany. The story is told from the point of view of each of the 8 people sharing the Welsh cottage, and this flicking from one person to another made reading the book quite difficult. For the first third of the novel I struggled hard to know whose head I was in. The only character with a distinctive voice is Angela’s youngest son, eight-year-old Benjy, who seems to have ADHD, but who nevertheless is the most perceptive person on this families-from-hell holiday.

Richard’s professional life isn’t as sweet and successful as he makes it out to be, his new wife has her own skeletons in the cupboard, one of them being that she doesn’t really like her own, selfish and cruel daughter.

Angela, whose resentment of her brother’s successful and moneyed life seems the main cause of her unhappiness, also hides another, more fundamental issue, as does her sixteen-year-old daughter Daisy. Even the seventeen-year-old Alex, whose only aim in life is to be successful like his Uncle Richard and in the course of that get laid as often as possible, finds that life can be much more complicated than that. Finally, also Dominic, Angela’s useless husband has a BIG secret, which is revealed during the cause of the holiday.

It’s a long week both for these two families and for the reader. I felt as if I was in a room with an overhead projector, forced to watch a home movie of someone else’s family holiday. The story is further complicated (as if it needed to be!) by the appearance of a ghost….

If you really liked ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” as did I, you might find the occasionally funny or sad moment beautifully portrayed here. But if this is your first introduction to Mark Haddon, I’d give this novel a miss.

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