Friday, June 08, 2012

'The Red House' by Mark Haddon

8 June 2012

A lot of our holidays consist of a week in a self-catering cottage so the setting of Mark Haddon’s new novel ‘The Red House’ was reassuringly familiar. Angela’s mother has just died and her brother Richard suggests a family holiday in a cottage in the Herefordshire countryside, near Hay-on-Wye. The party consists of Angela, her husband and their three children and Richard with his new wife and stepdaughter. All eight have some kind of secret which, inevitably, is revealed as the week progresses. The seven-day time frame gives the story a clear journey. Haddon’s previous novel, ‘A Spot of Bother’ (reviewed here in June 2007) was also a tale of family relationships and, while very enjoyable, was much more conventional than the wonderful book that made his name, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'. ‘The Red House’ is really interesting because it feels like a combination of the styles of the two earlier books. The third person narrative switches rapidly between the points of view of the various family members, sharing their interior monologues and their interpretation of events. This often naïve world-view sometimes seems to echo the excessive rationality of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'. There is no warning when the viewpoint switches and it is sometimes a little difficult to work out whose world we are in. This is an interesting challenge for the narrator of the audio book version, Nathaniel Parker. Mark Haddon also likes his lists and ‘found poetry’: we are often treated to excerpts from the book someone is reading or a description of items that someone is looking at in a shop. This is ‘Peep Show’ narrative. At first you wonder whether there is some deep significance to the choice of these passages or whether they are completely random, but after a while you allow it to flow over you and it conjures up an extremely realistic picture of the lives we are observing. “Guests are kindly requested to leave this house in the condition in which they found it” but these guests all leave the house in a significantly altered condition.  



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