5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Gripping and insighful,
This review is from: The Red House (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I thought this was an outstandingly good book. It is excellently written, remarkably insightful and - to me anyway - very gripping.
Be warned - there is almost no plot. An adult brother and sister take their respective families on holiday together in a cottage in Wales. Things do happen, but the book is concerned with their respective thoughts, experiences and interactions with each other. Novels of this kind can sometimes be dreadfully tedious, precious and self-indulgent; I only tried it because it was by Mark Haddon but I'm very glad I did. He writes in short sections cutting between the points of view of all eight characters and he shows the same extraordinary ability as he did in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time to really get inside someone's head and then to express that brilliantly for the reader. He uses tiny details to conjure places and moods and gets every detail exactly right, making the whole thing utterly believable to me.
The book is full of small but profound insights into character and the ways people feel about themselves and how they interact. As a couple of tiny examples he refers to the way someone's "sense of self depended so much on other people being in the wrong," and another sitting "half appreciating the view and half pretending to appreciate it and being horribly aware of the stupidity of this combination." I found that Haddon regularly put into words for me things which I recognised but hadn't really been able to crystallise for myself. He manages to capture the slightly haphazard way we really think, and is simply brilliant at the young people - the hormone-filled young man, the two teenage girls with their respective angsts and their friendship/hatred/friendship... cycle and I don't think I've ever come across a better evocation of the inner world of an eight-year-old boy than that of Benjy in this book.
Haddon treats his characters with understanding and compassion. There are some profound insights here, but there are no neatly tied-up solutions nor cosy Life Lessons learned. All the characters are subject to human frailties, unawareness, selfishness, failures of courage, ingrained habit and so on just like the rest of us, and I thought this was one of the book's great strengths.
I though the whole thing was terrific. I couldn't put it down and it has stayed with me very strongly since I finished it. Plainly a lot of other reviewers here didn't like the book and it's obviously not for everyone, but I would urge you at least to try it. You may well hate it too, but if you do find it's for you it will be a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience.
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Initial post: 22 May 2014, 13:05:15 BST
Eileen Shaw says:
You've convinced me to give this a go, in spite of other more ambivalent reviews. I am shortly to begin pruning my bookshelves because I won't have enough years left to read the books I already have. No, I don't have a fatal illness - just being realistic for a change!
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