The Red House by Mark Haddon tells of a week’s vacation for eight family members in a rented English countryside house near Wales. Wealthy brother Richard has asked his estranged sister, Angela, and her husband and their three children, to join him and his new wife and step-daughter. In addition to luggage for the stay, each person has brought their own emotional and situational baggage with them. Through each of the character’s individual narrative voices, the reader learns, in rather an impressionistic manner the family members’ thoughts, opinions and troubles. Spoken words are not put into quotation marks as is usually done in novels. Rather they are italicized. Problems are not solved but are definitely aired and discovered. A few characters come to new insights about themselves and their relationships with others.
As each segment of the story is presented, the reader pieces together the history and nature of the characters, through their interactions with family members and friends, past and present, somewhat like a puzzle. The novel combines elements of tragedy and comedy with sensitivity. Descriptions are also done with an impressionistic verbal brush. The book is an inventive approach to modern life, relationships, growing up and learning to mature.
When I finished I wondered what would happen to each of the family members - the parents, the teenagers, the eight-year-old boy - as they drove off at the end of their holiday. At the close I also realized that the author has used the color red as a subtle accent throughout the book, from the color of the rented house to the car of the cleaning person coming to ready the house for the next renters. The house may be cleaned, but the lives of renters may still be in disarray.
Posted for reader C.C.