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.
I don't like to say this, but I'm afraid I didn't like this book at all. I just didn't get it. I didn't get the interludes nor the dialogues, most of the time: who was saying what to whom. I had trouble connecting with the characters too. The adults all seemed selfish and the kids really troubled. Luckily I did push through and I came to enjoy the last 150 pages (give or take). I felt strongly for Daisy and even Alex didn't seem so bad in the end. But it jut wasn't my story. Too bad.