Richard and Angela are estranged siblings who have a long-standing grudge between them resulting from the care of their mother in her last years. They've shared little in their lives with each other and just don't know the other very well. So no one quite knows why Richard invites Angela and her family to join Richard's family at a house in the English countryside for a week or why Angela accepts the invitation.
It's not just their relationship that threatens to ruin the week. Richard and his wife Louisa are adjusting to their new marriage and the effects of their old lives. Louisa's daughter Melissa is in trouble back home but hiding it from her parents. Angela is haunted by the loss of a baby 18 years earlier. Her husband Dominic is in the midst of a relationship outside of his marriage. Their children Alex, Daisy and Benjy, are all distanced from their parents, dealing with their own identity issues. The next seven days will be a test of strength, a family gathering for the ages.
The Red House, by Mark Haddon, is a story about contemporary family life, one that exemplifies how even though we share the same blood, we are never really able to fully understand the other. It's a simple story, no major plot, no big thread to tie all of the eight lives together other than the fact that they are staying in the same house. It's just about the lives of the individuals and the effects they have on the people around them.
I couldn't get into this book. I had high hopes for it, given the fact that I loved one of Haddon's previous books, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. One of my biggest issues was that I didn't enjoy the technique Haddon used of alternating between the view points of characters. Normally I'm okay with this, but Haddon jumps back and forth between characters on the same page, sometimes even in the same paragraph. WIth eight characters, this became a lot. Too often I found myself going back over what I was reading or to a previous page to figure out who was talking or what was going on.
It's probably due to this that I found myself unable to relate to or feel for any of the characters. I think if there was more to do with the characters struggles and the lives they were escaping from for a week I would have liked them more. Instead I found myself reading about what music they were listening to, what they were reading and a whole bunch of walking around the countryside. Eventually, I tuned out and found myself speed-reading through to the end. And it's unfortunate that I found myself finally becoming attached to the characters at the end.
One thing I will give this book is that it is definitely a snapshot of how families can fall into dysfunction. There is a lesson in the book of how the family dynamic disintegrates and fails when each member is caught up in their own struggles without communicating their needs to the others. There is so much potential within a family but so easy for it all to fall apart.
Reviews on The Red House seem to be mixed. A lot of people love it, a lot of people are very disappointed. I personally feel I may have enjoyed this one more had I not gone into with the anticipation of another Curious Incident. There is definitely a lot to think about here with the issues of family dynamic and self discovery, but in the end it wasn't to overcome the writing style and blow me away.
I received this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own and I have received no compensation.