Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book Review: "The Red House" by Mark Haddon

As I said when I reviewed the movie Your Sister's Sister last week, what would movies and books do without family dysfunction? Certainly The Red House, Mark Haddon's latest novel, would cease to exist.

Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister, Angela, and her family, to join him, his new wife, and teenage stepdaughter for a week's vacation in the English countryside. Both families have more than their share of struggles. Angela's husband is having an affair, her daughter has discovered a new religious zeal at the same time as she is dealing with questions about her sexuality, and Angela herself is still having difficulty dealing with the birth of a stillborn child 18 years ago. Richard and his wife are also having some issues, and his stepdaughter, Melissa, vacillates between cruelty and wanting to be liked. As both families work to try and enjoy the holiday, old grudges and hurts—and new ones—must be dealt with.

Mark Haddon is the author of the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and the tragicomic A Spot of Bother, but sadly, this book doesn't match his earlier two. The book switches between eight different narrators (Angela, her husband, each of their children, Richard, his wife, and her daughter) about every other page, so I found it very difficult to gain any traction with the story. And while you'd expect some crises to arise when two troubled families get together, Haddon seemed to throw nearly every possible difficulty and crisis into the plot. I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't warm up to the story or the characters. Oh, well...

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