I loved the first book, but to say I was disappointed with this is an understatement. It's not so much the plot, an inconsequential tale of an estranged brother and sister and their respective families (dysfunctional, naturally) going to Herefordshire for a week in a cottage. A few skeletons emerge from cupboards, but no one seems to really change much. It's not so much the characters, though it's hard to remember who's who a lot of the time, so sketchily are they drawn. It's not so much the wealth of irrelevant and unnecessary realistic detail - is Exile on Main Street the best double album ever, or is it Physical Graffiti etc (try The White Album, Mark.) It's more all of this together, combined with an artsy, convoluted writing style that made me want to give up plenty of times. But I ploughed on, hoping the admittedly slight plot would make up for the pretentiousness of the style. It didn't.
It remeinded me a little of Alice Thomas Ellis, with more up-to-date characters. And boy is it up to date. It practically thrusts its modernity down your throat. You know, short paragraphs that skip from character to character; an ever changing tense, sometimes past, sometimes present. Ruminations and stream-of consciousness (not that that's modern) and that wealth of realistic detail that seems there more to pad the whole thing out. No speech marks, naturally. Those useful little squiggles seem to have little place in a modern book intended to be artistic. Instead we have italics. Whatever next? How about all nouns in bold? Really, I get so tired of writers messing with the form instead of letting the story, the characters, the description do the job. It's not as though Mark Haddon can't write - I just don't understand why he had to wrap up this rather humdrum tale in such artiness. I don't often give a book only one star, but this really brassed me off.