The Red House: Book summary and reviews of The Red House by Mark Haddon

The Red House

A Novel

by Mark Haddon

The Red House by Mark Haddon
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2012
    272 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

The set-up of Mark Haddon's brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.

But because of Haddon's extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family.

The Red House is a literary tour-de-force that illuminates the puzzle of family in a profoundly empathetic manner - a novel sure to entrance the millions of readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. ...Yet the plot feels organic rather than contrived, the characters convincing throughout, the tone compassionate and the writing wise. A novel to savor." - Kirkus Reviews

"The tiresomely quirky Haddon misses the epochal timbre that Jonathan Franzen hit with Freedom, and his constantly distracted novel is rarely more than a distraction itself." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Refreshingly, Haddon takes the risk of making the ordinary extraordinary and succeeds; each character is poignantly real and each small trauma a revelation. And the language! Highly recommended." - Library Journal

"The book's ambition is perhaps greater than the ends it achieves - although comfortably paced and plotted, the frenetic changes in narrator are often disorienting - but the very many fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) will be thrilled to see Haddon on shelves anew." - Booklist

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

enjoyable and thought-provoking.
The Red House is the third adult novel by British poet and author, Mark Haddon. A week after burying their mother, Angela’s brother Richard, with whom she has had minimal contact for fifteen years, offers to take both their families on holiday. Five weeks later, Dominic, Angela and their three children are on the train to Hay-on-Wye; from Edinburgh, Richard, his wife of six months and his step-daughter are in his Mercedes headed for the same destination: a week in April in a rented house in Herefordshire.

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.

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Author Information

Mark Haddon Author Biography

© Nigel Barklie

Mark Haddon is the author of the international bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He won the Whitbread Award, Guardian Prize, and a Commonwealth Writers Prize for that work. In addition to The Talking Horse, The Sad Girl, and The Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has also written and illustrated numerous award-winning children's books and television screenplays. His short story, The Pier Falls, is currently longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, the richest prize in the world for a single short story.

He teaches writing for the Arvon foundation and at Oxford University. He lives in Oxford with his wife and son.

Link to Mark Haddon's Website

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