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madbkwm

madbkwm

The Red House - Mark Haddon I read the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime a few years ago and loved it. Recently, my husband read it and also loved it. I was ebrowsing and stumbled on this and got very excited...I didn't know Mark Haddon had written anything else. Yippee! Turns out I was overexcited. I now know that he has also written Spot of Bother (and will probably read that but with lower expectations).

I spent this entire novel thinking about Stewart O'Nan's Wish You Were Here (which I read a few years back and so have not adequately reviewed). As I remember it, O'Nan does it much better (I still have images from that book in my head and the pain/frustration/angst that he evoked with his inter-family dynamics was remarkable). That said, I suppose I should move on to actually reviewing this book.

The set up for Red House is a family vacation in a remote cottage (The Red House) in Wales. Richard is paying and he brings his new wife and her 16 year old daughter (both of whom have only met his family once, at his mother's recent funeral). Angela (his sister) brings her worthless husband and her three kids, along with the ghost/memory of her eldest child who was stillborn over 18 years ago (the 18th anniversary of Karen's due date occurs during the trip).

The characters are entertaining and the premise is okay. Everything is very Chekovian (no one really cares about anyone else, they are all thinking of their own issues/desires in each interaction and talking past each other), as are most real family interactions. I didn't mind the stream of consciousness writing style; the characters were different enough that it was fairly easy to tell in whose mind we were currently peering.

Ultimately, I think my biggest complaint was that nothing really happened. I just finished reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (arguably nothing happens there) and maybe my expectations for a character piece were high, but this just felt like a rambling description, rather than a story. There isn't much growth in the characters (although what could happen in a week?) with the sole exception of Richard's realization that he should need Louisa. I don't think he necessarily does need her (after all he admits to not even really remembering her existence during his hypothermic run), but he realizes he should.

Daisy's "growth" is that she realizes she is not a Bible-thumping annoying Christian freak, but a lesbian instead. Although on page 24 (during the first SOC from Daisy's POV) she says, "It wasn't about believing this or that, it wasn't about good and evil and right and wrong, it was about finding the strength to bear the discomfort that came with being in the world." So, does she really change all that much or does she discover a new way to find strength in the world?

Dominic briefly considers ending his affair with Amy and taking a more active role in his life and his family's life, but then he does not speak to Daisy when he has the chance, he does not go after Alex to explain anything and ultimately he is ready to return to the status quo.

Louisa is simply a trophy wife; she briefly gets angry at Richard and then just withers to acknowledge that she needs him and at least he doesn't treat her like shit.

Melissa is mean spirited and self centered and while she briefly has remorse for her treatment of Daisy and she acknowledges that she is afraid of kindness, ultimately she fucks Alex just to (figuratively) spit in his face and show her superiority to him.

Benjy doesn't change and doesn't see much, he is sort of the court jester throughout. Alex also doesn't do much outside of his world. He is just the nice guy plodding through and thinking about sex.

Angela also doesn't change in essence, although her psychosis gets worse. It is unclear if she suffers from the same mental disease/stroke? that her mother had or if she is just mourning Karen.

Overall, it was okay. Not fabulous, not terrible, just sort of middling.