the red house book coverReviewed by Marcus Hammond

In his new novel, The Red House, Mark Haddon writes, “Perhaps everyone possessed a darker self kept at bay by circumstance.” With this he sets out to show how a fractured and dysfunctional family balances their darker selves while on vacation for a week.

Haddon establishes early in the plot that Angela and Richard are siblings whom have had little contact with each other. They reunite after their Alzheimer’s-stricken mother passes away. In an attempt to atone for his neglectful attitude towards Angela and her struggles to care for their mother, Richard invites Angela and her family to a family retreat. What follows is a weeklong expedition into each family member’s personal drama. The vacation brings Angela, her husband, Dominic; and their three children, Alex, Daisy, and Benjy together with Richard, his wife Louisa, and his stepdaughter, Melissa. The differences in ages and attitudes within the family present a volatile atmosphere that Haddon uniquely exploits.

The writing style Haddon employs makes this novel unique, impactful, and incredibly hard to read. The book is separated into days of the week that correspond with each day of the vacation. As each day progresses, the innermost thoughts of the family members (eight in total) are presented in a stream of consciousness narrative style. In one paragraph Richard and Angela may be discussing Richard’s failures as a son and brother, while he is thinking about how his step-daughter is too much to handle and Angela is thinking about her dead daughter’s upcoming eighteenth birthday. These mixed dialogues and inner monologues are offset through the use of italics, however, it is incredibly difficult to gain any type of narrative clarity. Family drama is never easy to decipher, though, so this chaotic narrative style does create some impression of reality in the plot.

Overall, the plot is captivating if you can keep who is speaking or thinking straight. I found the more I could read in one sitting the more clear the plot became. Unfortunately, that type of dedication isn’t always available. This aspect, unfortunately, will probably keep the casual or working reader from making it further than page 50. If you are looking for a challenging and, ultimately, rewarding read, however, Red House will fill that bill.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.