“After his mother’s death, Richard, a newly remarried hospital consultant, decides to build bridges with his estranged sister, inviting Angela and her family for a week in a rented house on the Welsh border. Four adults and four children, a single family and all of them strangers. Seven days of shared meals, log fires, card games and wet walks.
But in the quiet and stillness of the valley, ghosts begin to rise up. The parents Richard thought he had. The parents Angela thought she had. Past and present lovers. Friends, enemies, victimes, saviors. And watching over all of them from high on the dark hill, Karen, Angela’s stillborn daughter.
The Red House is about the extraordinariness of the ordinary, weaving the words and thoughts of the eight characters together with those fainter, stranger voices — of books and letters and music, of the dead who once inhabited these rooms, of the ageing house itself and the landscape in which it sits.”
If the synopsis sounds promising to you, don’t set expectations.
After The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night Time and, to a lesser extent, A Spot of Bother, I was becoming a bit of a Mark Haddon fan. Which prompted me to buy The Red House without a second thought. I didn’t even read the synopsis prior to buying. That was a mistake on my part.
Writing that down though, I do think I would have still bought the book even after reading the synopsis. Written the way it’s written, the book sounded interesting. Fantastically horrifying.
Except it’s not. Not for me, anyway.
The Red House is written as if it were notes taken by an astute observer. A fly on the wall, if you will. The fly sees and hears everything, but it’s not exactly a storyteller. It’s a reporter, and it tells you all the events. It’s up to you to pick up the story as you want it told.
It could be love story, a love rediscovered. It could be the story of a person’s sexual awakening. It’s a story about grief, and about the memories we recreate to suit the history we want to have. Or maybe a story about a family who’s barely hanging on together–a family that is further broken apart by honesty.
The Red House could be any story. But whatever story you choose it to be might not be the story the author intended.
Reading the book, there’s a sense of something–a message, maybe–that the author wants to impart: about family, about relationships, about memories. Goodness knows what he really wanted to say. What I got from the book was this though: you like what you like, and even when you don’t like something, you make up stuff that would explain why you do.
Midway through reading the book, I was trying to find things to like. And while I do like the characters, I realized that it wasn’t enough. And no amount of good will from Haddon’s first two novels would’ve been enough to make me say that this book was great. Because, honestly, it wasn’t. Not for me.
It took a lot of self-control to even finish the book.
That’s not to say that it is a bad book. Somewhere out there are people who thinks the world of this book. I’m not one of them.
A reason could be the author’s chosen mode of storytelling. Being omniscient, while empowering, can also be very boring. And blow-by-blow accounts of what characters chose to do, however likeable they are, can be very tedious.
Then, there’s the promise of the supernatural. Karen’s “ghost” appears a number of times. But the author doesn’t seem to be sure as to what the ghost really is. Is she an actual spirit, come to haunt the family that never gave her a chance to live? Or is she a imagined figment of a mind bordering on illness? Her appearances will leave you conflicted and confused.
Things pick up during the last third of the book. By then though, I’ve lost all hopes of ever liking the book. I finished the book out of duty, not love. And that’s not a feeling I want when reading a book to take a break. So no, there will be no recommendations for this book coming from me.