Quick Book Review: The Red House by Mark Haddon
November 16, 2012 26 Comments
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.”
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?