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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Red House

In the latest novel from Mark Haddon a long estranged brother and sister, Richard and Angela, decide after the death of their mother that it might be a good idea to take a holiday together in a rented country house with their collective nuclear families (eight of them in all). Does this raise a red flag? It should. Indeed marital problems, lesbianism, fundamentalist religion, teenage angst, teenage lust and, less convincingly, the ghost of a stillborn daughter all rear their unattractive heads at various points in the story. A longstanding animosity between brother and sister simmers under the surface and we know that the bubbles will break the surface at any time. Each of the eight family members brings their own set of neuroses into the mix.
The Red House is written in a stream-of-consciousness style that I found confusing. I had to keep rereading sections to determine whose thoughts I was seeing on the page. That said, I soldiered on and as the characters revealed themselves I became more adept at sorting the voices. Mark Haddon has mastered the art of nailing the root causes of family dysfunction. I didn't like any of these people better in the end but I was glad that they didn't suddenly solve their relationship problems over the course of a few days together. That would have seemed false and the strength of this novel is that the relationships ring all too true. The lesson, if there is one, is that the past cannot be ignored despite the best of intentions.

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