As a huge fan of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of the Dog In the Night-Time, I was delighted to receive an advance copy of his latest work The Red House (though it is in stores by now). I was cautious, though, because while I loved his first book, I did not enjoy A Spot Of Bother, his second novel, nearly as much.
The Red House falls somewhere in between.
I have to admit, in the beginning, the book absolutely captivated me. The Red House is the story of a middle-aged brother and sister meeting in the country at a charming little cottage. The sister, Angela, has brought along her husband, teenage son and daughter, and a pre-teen boy. The brother, Richard, is accompanied by his beautiful wife he has just married and her difficult teenage daughter.
I’ll get to the characters in a moment, but they are not what initially ensnared me. The book’s structure is what really got me excited. The book is broken into days instead of chapters, each representing a countdown to when the families’ holiday is over. Furthermore, each “day” is chopped up by a character’s particular perspective, and Haddon works tirelessly to make each character’s voice and point of view unique. Though I should probably be ashamed to admit it, I especially relished each vignette because, by and large, most of them were not more than a few paragraphs long. This meant that I could pick the book up at any given moment, read for a few moments, and then put it down and still feel as though the story was uninterrupted.
The style of the book made it a very quick read and, considering the numerous plots, assured it kept a nice pace.
While I enjoyed Haddon’s characters, truthfully, I didn’t feel most of them broke any new ground. Angela, the seemingly most mundane of them, ended up interesting me more because, in my opinion, her development proved the most radical. The rest of the characters, while appealing, really dealt with things we’ve read about before or perhaps even experienced. Maybe that was Haddon’s point, though? Even though I’d read their general plots before, that admittedly did not make me like them any less.
I will say that next to Angela, another character that was meant to be the second most mundane was thrust into a plotline that I felt was the most forced and even patronizing. I won’t go into detail for fear of spoiling things, but had this character progressed with either one or the other storyline, I would have been fine with it, but to juxtapose the two developments for this one character simply did not feel consistent with her previous characterization and, as I said, came off as something more political in nature than an organic evolution.
To conclude, The Red House did not recapture the lightning in a bottle that was The Curious Incident Of the Dog In the Night-Time, but it was a really interesting character study, particularly in regards to Angela, and executed an unusual technique that I felt only enhanced the overall story.