Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Red House by Mark Haddon

A brother and sister, with their spouses and children, spend a week in a cottage in Wales. This is the starting point of The Red House by Mark Haddon, the author of the prize-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This is a simple idea, but one which belies the complicated worlds of the different characters. Although related by blood or marriage, they are very much individuals, bringing with them their own histories and crises. Occasionally their worlds touch, in moments of brief understanding, before drifting apart once more.

Angela still mourns her stillborn child, who would have celebrated her eighteenth birthday that week. Richard, a hospital consultant, is worried about a potential lawsuit. Dominic wonders whether to end his affair. The teenagers, Melissa and Daisy, form a brief but dangerous alliance.

The story is told, day by day, in the third person, with a constantly changing viewpoint. This disorientates the reader, making it hard to follow at first. The style is impressionistic, almost a stream of consciousness at times. It made me think too of Middlemarch and the 'equivalent centres of self'. So some concentration is required, but I think it is a book that well rewards the effort.

One person looks around and sees a universe created by a god who watches over its long unfurling, marking the fall of sparrows and listening to the prayers of its finest creation. Another person believes that life, in all its baroque complexity, is a chemical aberration that will briefly decorate the surface of a ball of rock spinning somewhere among a billion galaxies. And the two of them could talk for hours and find no great difference between one another, for neither set of beliefs makes us kinder or wiser.

A spot of background googling brought to light Mark Haddon's essay 'The Right Words in the Right Order' about the power of the novel to portray our inner experiences. The essay can be found in Stop What You're Doing And Read This, authors' reflections on the transformative power of reading. Contributors include Blake Morrison, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson. Another one to add to my list perhaps?


  1. This is sitting on my shelf just waiting for the moment when I've finished a couple of books I've got to read for up and coming discussions. Like most people, I loved 'The Curious Incident' but I also really enjoyed 'A Spot of Bother', which I didn't think got the recognition it deserved. Thanks for the link to the essay. I think I'll read that before the book.

  2. I liked 'The Curious Incident' too. I think he's a very perceptive writer who really understands his characters.

  3. I have never read Mark Haddon, although I can't really tell you why. You know how sometimes you hear almost too much about a book and then can't approach it? Well, I'm like that about The Curious Incident. Perhaps I should try one of his other novels first.

    1. I feel that way about most Booker Prize winners...


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