I feel sorry for author Mark Haddon when it comes to any book he writes after Curious Incident because that book was so original, so fresh and funny and clever and moving that it is always going to be a hard act to follow. I tried not to keep comparing this story to that one while I was listening to it, but to be honest if this had been by anyone other than Haddon, I probably wouldn't have persevered to the end.
The Red House tells the story of siblings Angela and Richard, her family - husband Dominic and children Alex, Daisy and Benjie, and Dominic's second wife Louisa and her teenage daughter Melissa. They all go on holiday together after the death of Angela and Richard's alcoholic mother, with both adult siblings hoping to patch up their relationship. The three older children all have 'issues' and little Benjie is a fairly typical 8 year old and probably the best drawn character in the book.
The trouble with this book is not that very little happens, it's that the characters are so unsympathetic, dull and cliched that they're embarrassing to listen to. I didn't actually mind the two men, although they are so similar it's hard to tell them apart, it doesn't help that the writing is very fragmented, you jump from perspective to perspective all the time which makes it confusing at times, particularly when there are no really clear voices. This also made it very difficult for the narrator, who I think did a mainly good job. What irritated me the most was the teenage girls who are so one dimensional compared to real teenagers (I have four) that they are completely unbelievable. Melissa, who is supposed to be the edgy, difficult one, is a cardboard cutout. If you can't empathise, there's no reason to keep reading, or listening.
The second really annoying thing is Haddon's tendency to use lists instead of descriptions, and brands to categorise a person. This strategy worked fantastically well in Curious but it doesn't work here. IIn a second-hand bookshop, for example, he lists the diverse books on the shelf. To give us a picture of Melissa, he lists the tunes on her iPod. I feel this is supposed to be clever, I just found it made me want to scream. Especially when he gets the female soundtracks so very wrong.
Third problem is Angela's stillborn baby, Karen, who haunts her. Horrible descriptions of what it's like to have a child with congenital abnormalities. He describes what people think it is like until they've been through it.
I know this book is getting a lot of attention, but I'm afraid I don't think it's good or clever. Read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time instead. That one's brilliant.
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