The Red House

Mark Haddon

The Red House
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The Red House

Mark Haddon

Family, that slippery word, a star to every wandering bark, and everyone sailing under a different sky. 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. Once again Mark Haddon, bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and A Spot of Bother has written a novel that is funny, poignant and deeply insightful about human lives.

Review

Five red cars in a row or not, I knew it was a good day when I picked up the proof copy for The Red House, Mark Haddon’s third adult fiction book. I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and A Spot of Bother. They’re such great books. Both are so poignant and cleverly told.

Distanced and dysfunctional, the siblings Richard and Angela bring their respective families, at Richard’s invitation, to the Red House, a rented property close to the Welsh border. In this house, cut off from their familiar and comforting surroundings, the families are starting afresh, healing deep rifts and rebuilding their relationships. Here’s where we see Haddon in his element.

For most of the seven (or eight) characters here, the distant and not-so-distant starts to play upon their minds. Present problems, both large and small, and other skeletons emerge that each must reconcile, alone and as a group. The spirit of Angela’s stillborn daughter Karen, who has a strong presence, is a reminder of the need to come to terms with past events. Haddon is great at giving voice to ordinary life and the trials and tribulations of self and family.

Something else about Haddon is that he is great at writing adolescents and younger kids. He gets the teen angst. He’s great at capturing the moods of younger kids, particularly the moments of squirming discomfort when they’ve discovered something unpleasant. He conveys Benjy’s moods beautifully.

Much like his other works, particularly A Spot of Bother, Haddon finds that balance between funny and poignant with The Red House. I read this in one sitting in bed on a recent Sunday morning. It’s a lovely and insightful read.

Julia Jackson is from Readings Carlton

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