Book Review: The Red House by Mark Haddon
Consider this half a review based on half of a book.
This is one of those books that I knew early on wasn’t going to gel for me, but still, I soldiered on. Finally, though, I reach my breaking point, and at page 141 of 264, I called it quits. No particular reason that it happened on page 141, no upsetting turn of events, nothing at all — which maybe was part of the problem. I read 141 pages of a book and walked away feeling like nothing had happened.
The Red House is the story of a family vacation at a rented country home for a week. Angela and Richard are estranged brother and sister whose mother has only recently passed away after a long descent through the ravages of Alzheimers. Richard brings his new wife and stepdaughter, Angela brings her husband and three children, and they all gather at this country estate… and do not much of anything at all.
Seriously, there is practically no plot to this book, and the writing just drove me up a wall. The point of view bounces, paragraph by paragraph, from one of the eight characters to another. The writing style is somewhat stream of consciousness, but mostly just felt like a big mess to me. The book is simply filled with incomplete sentences, which — like everything else about this book — either bored me to tears or drove me bonkers with frustration.
Opening at random, here’s a representative sample:
Ruined arches striding away like the legs of a great stone spider. Transepts, triforium, clerestory. Eight hundred years of wind and rain and theft. Sir Richard Colt Hoare sees the great west window fall in 1803. Banks of mown green baize. Holly Hop and Brains Dark in the cool of the vaulted bar. Snickers and tubs of Ben and Jerry’s with wooden spoons under the plastic lids. Traffic making its way up the valley to Gospel Pass against the flow of the ghost ice, stopping for lorries to reverse, idling behind cyclists. Four pony trekkers. A steel, a sorrel, two chestnuts. A brief Jacob’s ladder of sunlight, as if heaven were search for raiders moving over the earth.
And that’s the style of the entire book. Good lord, is it any wonder I quit?
I really had high hopes for this one, having read the author’s first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time years ago. I enjoyed that book very much, and found the narrative voice to be quirky, charming, and original.
But The Red House? Gah. I want my two days back.
Of course, I will admit that perhaps something went over my head, and I’m sure there are readers who will like this sort of thing. But as I’ve certainly made clear by now, I’m not one of those readers. I simply could not stand reading any more of this book, and I’m relieved to have put it aside. Onward! Here’s hoping my next reading adventure will be exponentially more satisfying.