Michael's Reviews > The Red House

The Red House by Mark Haddon
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's review
Jun 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: audio, 2010s
Recommended to Michael by: Jennifer

An attempt by a successful contemporary novelist to write a successful contemporary novel that uses the author's toolkit laid out by James Joyce in "Ulysses" (which Haddon subtly quotes here and there, a little nod to those of us who have earned that passport stamp). The attempt is, I think, something close to a smashing success. The stream of consciousness is nowhere as turgid as in "Ulysses" (or even as in "To the Lighthouse," another possible influence), and after an initial period of getting our bearings it is not especially difficult to keep track of a fairly large cast, their relationships with each other, their individual concerns, and their different perspectives on past incidents.

It is kind of amazing to read this kind of novel set in the present day, incorporating contemporary technologies (cellphone reception is, realistically enough, a constant thread of concern), social conditions (not a servant in sight!), customs (jogging!), and popular culture (each character has not only a personality, but a well defined set of tastes). Haddon, who has shown before that he has a gift for getting inside other people's heads, splendidly invokes the inner workings of (if I'm counting right) four adults, three teens, and a child. If you buy into the idea that the purpose of the novel is to prove to you that other people really exist, this is a good novel for the job.

I can think of several reasons people might dislike it. One is that, although not an especially difficult read, it does assume full adult reading competence and would take some work for someone lulled by a steady diet of lite fiction. Second, there is sex and ungenerous sexual behavior, as sometimes happens in real life. Third, the characters are not overtly "likeable" if you don't like characters who are often prey to their own pettiness, blinded by their own perspective, and bewitched by their own selfishness. Personally, I like characters like that because they remind me of me and everyone I know.

Lastly, I had the sense while reading that the week's vacation that the book describes was AWFULLY fraught with incident. But then, that's allowable in a tale: the fact that a story is being told implies that we are to expect remarkable things (Put another way, the story of the family vacation where nothing much unusual happened isn't a story at all, and doesn't get told.) And too, family vacations really DO tend to be fraught with emotional goings-on, so the density of happenings in "The Red House" is perhaps not as exaggerated as I initially thought.

My humble -- nay, abject -- thanks to Jenners for the recommendation.

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Jennifer Do you want my copy or do you have your own? I'm happy to send it to you.

Michael I'm gonna ear-read it.

Jennifer Good luck with that ... it is very very jumpy and will be a challenge on audio I suspect!

Michael I like it a lot.

Jennifer Good to hear, bloke!

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