Quick Book Review: The Red House by Mark Haddon

The Red House by Mark Haddon

I almost didn’t finish this book.

By rights I should have loved this new book by Mark Haddon. I’ve read three of his previous novels: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (a YA story about an autistic boy trying to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog) and Boom! (a story for slightly younger children about two boys who discover that two of their teachers are aliens) as well as A Spot of Bother (an (adult) story about a family). I loved the first two, and liked the last one.

But no, after 50 pages of The Red Hosue I had enough. I was irritated by the shift in viewpoints twice a page on average. There were eight main characters, and to shift from one to the other and back again after only one or two paragraphs, became unpleasant.

Also, I didn’t like the way some of these paragraphs were written. Paragraphs that were just a summing up of what a character was seeing around them, smelling, feeling, etc. Paragraphs just reporting from the book that one of the characters was reading. The novelty factor wore off really, really fast.

Although I was reading the Dutch translation, I found it really hard going. I was certainly glad I hadn’t gone for the English original!

I complained on Twitter and I had one person agreeing with me (although she had finished the book). The publisher of the Dutch edition read my tweets too, and said she loved the book and its characters. She suggested I gave it another 50 more pages. Well, OK, I did just that.

And yes, my opinion of the book changed. I didn’t love it, but I got used to the shift in viewpoint. I even became curious about the story and the people in it. The characters were very real people, believable. The situation, a brother and sister that don’t meet up very often, taking a holiday home together with their spouses and children, was believable as well.

The family relations were very well described. Slowly but surely these people who didn’t have much in common started to care for each other or find fault lines in their relationships where they didn’t suspect any. I think if it wasn’t for the way it was written, I would have loved this book.

Was it me? I don’t think that I’d been looking forward to this book so much (I had!) that it could never meet my expectations. Maybe it was the book rather than me? I decided to consult Amazon. Amazon UK showed that roughly 25% of readers gave this book 5, 4, 3, and 2 stars each, and a few gave it 1 star. Amazon USA showed roughly 20% for each of the ratings. A very mixed reception, then, this book. Maybe it’s not (just) me who found it difficult to appreciate.

The Red House: What it is about

Description from Amazon.co.uk: “After his mother’s death, Richard, a newly remarried hospital consultant, decides to build bridges with his estranged sister, inviting Angela and her family for a week in a rented house on the Welsh border. Four adults and four children, a single family and all of them strangers. Seven days of shared meals, log fires, card games and wet walks.

But in the quiet and stillness of the valley, ghosts begin to rise up. The parents Richard thought he had. The parents Angela thought she had. Past and present lovers. Friends, enemies, victims, saviours. And watching over all of them from high on the dark hill, Karen, Angela’s stillborn daughter.

The Red House is about the extraordinariness of the ordinary, weaving the words and thoughts of the eight characters together with those fainter, stranger voices – of books and letters and music, of the dead who once inhabited these rooms, of the ageing house itself and the landscape in which it sits.”

Het rode huis by Mark Haddon

Rating: 3 stars

Number of pages: 274 (my Dutch edition)

I got this book: from the library

First published: 2012 (UK, my Dutch edition, Het rode huis, 2012)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

26 Responses to Quick Book Review: The Red House by Mark Haddon

  1. I lved all the previous books by this author, but just couldn’t get into this one sadly, so it is not just you on this one:(

  2. bibliosue says:

    Well, I’m glad the book got better after you were convinced to keep going!

  3. JuneA** says:

    The reviews on GoodReads are all over the place, so decided to pass-I have enough trouble with my own disfunctional family to read about it during the holidays!!! Maybe this spring, I’ll give it a try.

    • Leeswammes says:

      June, indeed, the ratings are very varied. Some books people love or hate, but this one gets equal numbers of all the ratings. I wish you less trouble and a nice weekend!

  4. Charlie says:

    Well from the sound of it I reckon I’d be thinking the same. I can just about read different viewpoints per chapter, but constantly would be strange. The writing you otherwise discuss sounds like it was supposed to be appealing or clever, though I can see the issues with explaining things too much.

  5. debbierodgers says:

    I loved A Spot of Bother bu the change of POV in this one sounds just a little too rapid for me. I think I’ll follow-up this author with another of his books.

  6. I’m going to skip this one, Judith. It sounds a bit too chaotic. Thanks for your review.

  7. The UK hardback edition of this book is so lovely, it actually looks like a glazed ceramic surface, so I’ve nearly picked it up several times. But I don’t think I’d enjoy it that much and I’d be getting it just for that cover!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Ellie, I am very much attracted to beautiful covers and I’m often tempted to buy a book just because of it. The Dutch cover is attractive too but not as special as what you describe here.

  8. JoV says:

    This is disappointing news Judith. I love The Curious Incident of the Dog at nighttime. Sorry to hear you don’t like it, I won’t read it either!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jo, this is a very different book from *The Curious Incident. *It’s good literary fiction, really, but the way it’s organised, in small paragraphs, was off-putting for me..

  9. Interesting review, Judith. Does the book actually switch viewpoints, or is it written in omniscient POV? I’m happy to read omniscient, but might struggle with the constantly switching POVs otherwise.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Stephanie, it’s in 3rd person, but not omniscient – that is, we look in the heads of the characters but see everything only from that particular character at that particular moment.

  10. Lisa says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one! I really tried, but just couldn’t finish this book. I got through 140 pages, feeling frustrated and bored the entire time, and finally decided to stop. Life’s too short to spend time on books I don’t enjoy!

    Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies

  11. I like this author but couldn’t get into this one for some reason. I think many others had trouble as well.

  12. Leslie says:

    I haven’t read this one but with all those shifts in POV I’ll be sure to choose print over audio if I decide to give it a try. Some books are just not made for audio, and this sounds like one of them.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Leslie, I would agree that this is better to read than to listen to. Even if they use different voices for the different characters on the audio, there are 8 of them!!!

  13. It sounds like this novel had some good points but was very uneven. While I loved The Curious Incident, I think I’ll pass on this one.

    http://eclecticbooksandmovies.blogspot.com

  14. Patrick Fitzgerald says:

    Agree this is a frustrating book and whilst I have also just read the 1st three chapters it’s a bit of a brain-storm trying to identify who’s saying what.
    Too many varying points of view going off at different tangents.
    A bit like being a newcomer to a party of strangers and trying to remember everyone’s names.

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