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.
Rarely does a book irritate me as much as The Red House has. I’ve been seeing praises for this book on summer book lists for over two months now so when it popped up in my library’s digital collection I took the opportunity to read it right away.
One thing that is unique about this book is that every paragraph is told from a different character’s POV. The book is broken into sections by day. It took me a good quarter of the way through to catch on to which character’s POV belonged to each paragraph. Needless to say, the beginning was a real chore to get through. And that’s ok, if, and this is a big IF, you make the story matter.
The synopsis states “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…”. The only true statement in that sentence is that this family was a puzzle. If you’re looking for a tour-de-force, you won’t find it here.
None of the characters are likable or relatable. They’re shallow, weird and self-absorbed. They range from crazy to pathetic. They don’t come to any big realizations, no understandings. They are the same at the end as they are at the beginning. The story doesn’t matter. That would be ok if the book would have been the least bit entertaining.
If you’re looking for a book about the convergence of family and the resulting conflicts give The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore a try. It’s much more entertaining.
View this book on Amazon: The Red House: A Novel