“The Red House” by Mark Haddon, A Two-Family Vacation House

The Red House”  by Mark Haddon  (2012)  –  264 pages

 If you want to create a situation that has all the personal interaction and dramatic tension necessary to sustain an entire novel, just put two related families together in the same vacation house for two weeks.  In this very common type of get-together you have all the elements, the family history going back to childhood, the somewhat random interplay/collisions between the various characters, the divided loyalties, the festering resentments, the sexual tensions.  And then you throw in the children, sure to do something exciting or embarrassing at any moment.  This is the exact predicament Mark Haddon has set up in his novel, “The Red House”.

 The red house where our two related families spend a week is located in Hereford, England which is in the southwestern corner of the country.  Uncle Richard has invited his sister Angela, her husband Dominic, and their three children Alex, Daisy, and Benjy, to the vacation house.  Meanwhile Uncle Richard, a doctor, has just remarried to Louise who has a willful sixteen year old daughter Melissa.  Eight people allow for all kinds of interesting and uncomfortable interactions. 

 Mark Haddon, who has previously written children’s books, hit the big time with his first adult novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”   I remember the success of this novel against all odds with it ultimately winning the Whitebread Book of the Year award in 2003. 

 “The Red House” is definitely a lively story which held my interest the entire time that I was listening to the audio book.  We are all curious how other families interact, the high points and the low points.   Mark Haddon made the decision in this novel to give each of the characters equal footing, and the viewpoint switches from person to person in each scene.  Thus we get a sliding perspective of all these various people in the two families which is probably accurate.   I do believe that perhaps each of these family members brings in a little too much of their own back story of  events that happened outside the vacation.  Some of this back story was probably necessary to set the scenes that occur during the vacation, but the main focus on a vacation usually is the here and now.  Also by shifting the viewpoint from person to person, Haddon does not give the reader a clear unified stance or attitude toward these two families.  Another writer might have included a funny bachelor uncle or maiden aunt who views these two families from their own unique perspective.    

 We are all familiar with the modern literary technique where the author includes lists of objects or places in order to establish a scene.  Haddon tends to use this device a little too much.  When the two families visit the local book store in Hereford, Haddon lists some of the books which are on the shelves.  The list of books goes on and on, interminable.

 Over the seven days, sex becomes an overriding concern of the members of these two families, and I suppose that is realistic.  Or is the obsession with sex just an authorial device?

 I would say that “The Red House” is an above average novel, but the lack of a unifying focus, attitude, or theme and the overuse of a few literary devices keep it from greatness.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I very much enjoyed this novel, too. “The Red House” is entertaining and beautifully written, and shows off Haddon’s talent and range in a way “The Curious Incident” did not.

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  2. Hi FrIsbee,
    Yeah, ‘The Red House’ was quite enjoyable to listen to on my long commutes to and from work. It was only recently that I learned that Mark Haddon was a children’s book author before he began writing novels for adults. I think children’s book authors such as Tove Jansson and Ruth Park and Mark Haddon have a huge advantage in that they know how to frame a story in simple terms.

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  3. Posted by gaskella on August 11, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    I seem to have missed this one – will look forward to the paperback, sounds fab.

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