The Red House –

After attending several writing workshops in recent months, I ve noted the popularity of fragmented, stream of consciousness writing among men of a certain demographic White, aged somewhere between skinny hipster and the first thickening of the waistline, well educated, enad of morose, Sisyphean humor la David Sedaris or, oh, let s say Mark Haddon They write to a beat, disguising punchlines of angst in scattered phrases that connect like poetry but which strive to convey plot and character It sounds really cool when read aloud you get lost in the riffs and the rhythms of postmodern paragraphs But I m not convinced it makes for good story When a writer of Mark Haddon s skill approaches a story using similar techniques, you can count on something pretty remarkable For within the randomness of phrases, the phrases that fall away to ellipses, the ellipses that join ever changing points of view, you are presented with warm, nutty, tortured and scarily familiar characters And the characters are what I adore about The Red House In his latest take on Tolstoy s famous Happy families are all alike every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way Haddon reunites a mildly estranged sister and brother in a house hidden in a remote Welsh valley For the week s holiday at The Red House, the siblings bring their spouses and children Everyone s emotional baggage is packed tight with hang ups, hurts, secrets and silliness The children sparkle with complexity and empathy Their individual storylines and the prickly and sweet ways the author brings the characters together and plays them against each other rings true I m far less enad of the relationships between the spouses, but the interactions between siblings and spouses in law are hilarious and painful hilariously painful because they are so real How awkward and anxious we are with those whom we are forced by blood or marriage to spend time How often they are people we would never choose to befriend, but we have to figure out a way to love them, all the same Haddon is a master of making readers fall in love with his characters, despite our better judgment There is no central protagonist or narrator of The Red House The points of view shift rapidly between the four adults, three teenagers and an eight year old boy Haddon explores their thoughts and in doing so, reveals their characters It s not difficult to keep up or make the switch between voices rather, it s a thrill being on the Haddon emotional rollercoaster But honestly, the fragmented paragraphs, the jittery sentences, the lists, book excerpts, the contents of a second hand shop just don t work for me Fortunately, Haddon eases up on the clutch as the book continues, and the jerky ride smoothes out, but I admit to a fair amount of skimming through these bits They re boring They read like those Now, let s share our work with the class, moments when the bespectacled software designer wearing threadbare checked Vans spins out his clever three hundred word response to a writing prompt It sounds just awesome, but is utterly incomprehensible and bears no resemblance to a story I d go for 3 1 2 stars here It s a good read You can sift out the pretentious parts if you d like They aren t my thing, but they may be yours The rest, we ll probably agree, is purt near pitch perfect. Extreme speed datingWhat s on your iPod right now PING If you were a book title, what would you be PING What s your worst memory from childhood PING Do you have any memories from childhood PING If you could own an owl, like Harry Potter s Hedwig, what would you call it PING Why are you vegetarian Why aren t you vegetarian PING Is there anyone here who hasn t tried to kiss Melissa PING What was the last message on your phone PING Can you make a rocket out of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda PING Is Karen haunting you PING Don t worry, that s a different Karen, I m still alive.Like democracy, the family is the worst form of living together, except for all the others Putting a highly dysfunctional family into the hothouse of a week s holiday in Herefordshire sounds like a toxic brew, and I thought this was going to be dire Family members who barely know one another, the in laws can be such a tricky relationship , stepchildren, demon teenagers, ghosts from the past, insecurity, resentment what is to be expected but a series of slanging matches and tantrums But astonishingly, the manic flitting from one character s point of view to another s, like speed dating on crack, actually works, and works so brilliantly that each one sneaks under the skin and into the heart Every one is a fully realised figure with a credible back story, and there s nary a one who s unlikeable, even if most of them are shits and arseholes The incredible part is the concentration of problems within eight people, and the way that Herefordshire works a bit like the Betty Ford clinic, ridding the inmates of their toxic habits, or at least nudging them to health Go on, it s a story, not a case study It ll do, and very nicely, thank you. This Sound and the Fury wannabe actually really truly signifies nothing But it s not wholly without merits The prose is immersive, as everyone in their little worlds start to fall apart just as they barely begin to come together. I liked the ride on this one a lot, though I can t easily predict which friends would be equally pleased There is a lot to be said about trusting a good chef to know what to serve So one should release expectations before cracking this book There is no wondrous Asperger savant kid in this one nor hapless and resilient man with a humorous Walter Mitty like interior monologue Here we get an extended dysfunctional English family actually the families of two siblings thrown together on a holiday in rural Wales and a lot of stream of consciousness among the 4 adults, three teenagers, and an 8 year old There is little in the way of humor Maybe this doesn t seem a promising premise to many readers, but I felt it was quite a powerful slice of life with a lot of heart, wisdom, and interesting character development The magic for me lies in Haddon s use of nearly equal perspectives from the minds of eight characters Before you object to stream of consciousness writing based on your fill from so many masters of decades gone by, you have to admit that if a writer really wants to portray the life of a person, they have to at some level emulate the way their mind works And if your inquiry reaches toward what a family means, then a book bent on recreation of the symphony of minds could have some attractions for you But where is the grounding in this approach The raw and personalized perceptions, the private hurts, the poisonous thoughts, and the secret desires in this ensemble quickly looks like it will spin this world out of control Yet, even though each character is flawed and variously messed up with emotions of jealousy, grief, guilt, lust, religious yearnings, or despair you name it, the whole human nine yards , each takes steps either to improve their situation or to vouchsafe a path to continue bumbling along, helped along through strife or cooperation with each other It feels a little like development in a terrarium, a fertile microcosm of the human race.I appreciated Kingsolver s use of different family voices, young and old, to tell a tale from different perspectives in her Poisonwood Bible There is some of that same pleasure in this book for me In both books, when dark private realities come to light, there is eventually a surprising broad convergence on mutual understanding For example, a mother obsesses over a stillborn child from 18 years ago and how it drives her to imagine the daughter alive and growing in the present Her living daughter struggles to come to terms with her lesbian leanings and the undermining of her fundamentalist faith Despite the tenuous nature of the family bonds and their limited doses of moral courage, the secrets are digested by the family and taken in stride Haddon seems to be revealing how a family as a whole can be than the sum of its parts I understand how some readers can be frustrated with a bit of a game Haddon plays when he doesn t always identify the character who lies behind a particular thought process he unfurls In Woolf s Mrs Dalloway or Joyce s Ulysses you didn t have such challenges And sometimes an omniscient observer breaks through, which some might judge to detract from the realism of the immersion I think these devices lighten the load a bit in the same way the Wizard of Oz did when he punctured Dorothy s desperate bubble Here are a couple of examples or maybe they are from the mind of one of the characters some scholar could enlighten me One person looks around and sees a universe created by God who watches over its long unfurling, marking the fall of sparrows and listening to the prayers of his 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 someone among a billion galaxies And the two of them could talk for hours and find no great difference between each other, for neither set of beliefs makes us kinder or wiser Time speeds up.A day becomes an hour, becomes a minute, becomes a second Buildings inhabit the earth, growing like spores, sending out tubers, seeding new towns, new villages, new cities till they all are drowned in sand or jungle. The first 40 pages were tedious and the next 60 were not much better, but after that the author seems to find a workable rhythm and attempts to figure out a novel s form for his ideas One of the main problems is that Haddon seems to have graduated from the Bronte school of fiction and his use of descriptive adjectives is way beyond my ability to tolerate I could have done without phrases like The swill and chatter of water on page 144 or Bruised purple sky, wind like a train, the landscape suddenly alive, trees bent and struggling, swaths of alternating color racing through the long grass, the sky being hauled over the valley like a blanket Page 177 If you are young you might think that is good writing, the truth is that it is not.There is also a weakness in the characterizations Most of the characters spend the length of the book as one dimensional beings making the story flat The words that spew from their mouths made me feel the pretention of the author This is not a smart novel, it is not a fluid novel and by no means is it an interesting novel Toward the end of the novel the character of Angela almost steps up and becomes believable, yet, in the end she settles back to be uninteresting.This is a book about death, it begins with a death, but nowhere is the struggle with this most human of problems made effective The author provides lip service to a concept of death, but he falls short and it is my opinion that the subject matter was beyond him Perhaps he should have remained with children books. It s hard to review a book like this Mark Haddon is a very talented writer and he has some brilliant techniques employed into this novel However, I can t help comparing this book to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and ultimately I think this book lacked something to make this book great With the huge success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, I can t help but think that Mark Haddon has gotten overly confident with his writing While it was refreshing and enjoyable to read a book with so many interesting writing techniques I never really connected with the plot or the characters I was so excited about reading another book by this author and I feel I made a rookie mistake by going into a book with such high expectations.The Red House is the story about a well off physician, Richard, and his new family recently married a woman with a sixteen year old daughter taking a vacation Richard invites his sister Angela and family to join them as they hadn t seen each other since the funeral of their mother, fifteen years ago Angela s husband Dominic and three children are not as well off as Richard and took advantage of the offer as they wouldn t be able to afford a vacation any other way Together for a week in a rented cottage in Wales starts to show the cracks in everyone s relationship and exposes just how dysfunctional the family really is.Mark Haddon is contently switching between narrators in this book, I think I counted eight different points of views throughout this book might be and one of those was an all seeing third person narrative With the narrative always changing and each character only giving a glimpse of an insight, this book started off a little confusing and hard to keep track of all of the main characters One thing I ve found that Haddon did in this book as well as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time that I really liked was that he wasn t afraid to expose the inner voice of each character and allowing the reader an insight into the flaws and thoughts of each one of the characters There were also a lot of references to pop culture within this book that was quite enjoyable to read especially all the references to each book the main characters were reading.The Red House was actually a nice easy read and I was surprised how fast I got through this book this could have been all the blank pages throughout the book While I never really connected with this book the writing styles used throughout this book were interesting and almost experimental at times Some of it worked and some of didn t, I think Mark Haddon was overly confident when he wrote this book and it seemed to come through in the novel I m sure many people will love and enjoy this book and don t let my opinion stop you from reading it For me I struggled making that connection and I tried and tried to enjoy this book but it just didn t quite get there.This review was originally posted on my blog An dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family, from the author ofThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time The set up of Mark Haddon s brilliant new novel is simple Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside Richard has just re married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.But because of Haddon s extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family The Red House is a literary tour de force that illuminates the puzzle of family in a profoundly empathetic manner a novel sure to entrance the millions of readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. I was genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to read the new novel by Mark Haddon Like millions I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time I really enjoyed A Spot of Bother too I liked the idea behind this book A brother and sister holiday together after their mother s death, taking their children with them to spend a week in a rented holiday cottage on the Welsh border near Hay on Wye The siblings, Angela and Richard, aren t at all close, so we realise that this may be an uncomfortable week, and sit back with some relish to discover the clashes and confrontations that may occur in amongst the attempts at forced friendliness There are eight characters in all, and the narrative brings together the thoughts and conversations of all eight of them Angela and husband Dominic, and their three children, teenagers Alex and Daisy, and young Benjy, and Richard, and his new wife Louisa and her teenage daughter Melissa There is also the additional character who features prominently in Angela s thoughts, her stillborn daughter Karen In one sense the author s use of so many different voices is a wonderful approach as it gives us eight different perspectives on things, eight very individual characters, all with their different anxieties and concerns for us to discover We see how each of them interacts with the other family members when all suddenly thrust together at such close quarters for a week For all of them, the time away sees them thinking about what is really happening in their lives, and exposes the realities of their lives, the shortcomings in their friendships and relationships the truths behind things that are normally shelved away at the back of the mind during daily life come creeping to the fore here There are some keen insights into how the generations view each other there is one moment where teenager Daisy actually realises her mother is a human being, but only for a moment she soon becomes just her mother again And when Melissa, the same age as Daisy, realises that she hates something her father has suggested to her about her life, predominantly because she sees that it may well be true, and that is unbearable On the other hand, this number of perspectives makes for rather a disjointed narrative, jumping from one person to another sometimes every page or even often Additionally, the author has added in excerpts from books the characters are reading, mentions of the music they are listening to, aspects of the house s history, which does add another dimension to the characters and the setting, but again halts the flow of the narrative significantly Further, we have the character s random thoughts about past events and people in their lives There are also passages where there are various thoughts or ideas expressed in a quick fire way, a barrage of words hitting us It felt like the presiding view was a rather gloomy outlook on life and the world overall, which actually felt realistic and accurate to me at the end of the day, this is what people are like, full of insecurities, regrets, anxieties, and the author captures that so well here It is a thought provoking read, and it is perceptive, at times poignant and certainly insightful I felt from reading the premise that I would love this story, and I jumped in eagerly I very much admire anyone who can write a novel and I always hesitate to say I didn t love a book but somehow this one wasn t quite a favourite for me despite many aspects of it which I admired. While the premise to this novel was deeply interesting, The Red House is not only confusing and choppy in style, but also irritatingly difficult to relate to or even really stay immersed in It wasn t necessarily the story itself so much as the writing style and very predictable, simple characters Their connections and troubles are clearly written out yet there s very little complexity to them, nor is much of their inner thoughts or emotion shown.I did like the basic plot of the book, but the writing is a bit pretentious and rambles on with long, drawn out observations to the point where it hinders the story from continuing It ended up seeming much longer than it really was. The best way for me to review this book is to write the review like Haddon wrote this book sort of a stream of consciousness flowing from the minds of the eight people in the house of course, mine will just be from my mind, but I think you will get the idea Taking your estranged relatives on a weeklong vacation in an isolated house is never a good idea I can t even imagine a week with my not estranged relatives in this manner, and with only one car for all 8 people.Does every 18 year old boy think about sex this much Oh God, I live with a teenage boy Can t even go there.Who is Hadrian exactly Why does he have landscapes in Wales named after him Why didn t I pay attention in World History.The ghost of my better self floated into the room and saw me reading The Red House and tried to wrest it from my grip No, no, ghost of myself, I need to get through this and see what happens, if anything.Love some of the imagery in this book Haddon has a wonderful descriptive gift, and in between the lame plotting, there are some gems I want to stop and write down.Why can t two teen age girls just go on a walk in a novel nowadays without the issue of lesbianism coming up..Need to make a grocery list as soon as I finish this chapter Should I get the farfalle pasta or the campanelle Maybe get penne as it cooks faster.Wait a minute, Richard lives in Edinburgh Why does he have an English accent on the CD Are these people English or Scottish Why are they in Wales, again exactly.Red Solo Cup, I fill you up, let s have a party, let s start to party.Clearly, in the British Isles, there is a lot of extra marital sex going on, or do I just not know what is going on in my neighborhood.If you enjoyed this review, then you will love this book If my review bothered you by jumping around too much, for Pete s sake, don t go to The Red House.