The Red House by Mark Haddon
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Mark Haddon
Format: Hardcover, 264 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: June 12, 2012
The Red House by Mark Haddon is a wonderful microcosm of two estranged American families brought together by a holiday in a rented house on the Welsh border, near Hay-on-Wye.
Though the reader must read actively to connect the story together between the interchanging narrators from one paragraph to the next, the narrative itself is like discordant, yet free-flowing snippets of recollection, intimate thought, and vibrant memory.
And while the tone of the characters’ personalities ring with a raw angst at the beginning of the novel, the reader is able to step back and take an honest look into a well-written mosaic that makes up the complicated nature of very real personalities and their fluctuating dynamic with one another.
From Richard’s stiff awkwardness towards his estranged and bitter sister, Angela, and his unintentional vanity and pride birthed from privilege and success to Angela’s religious prejudice and emotional absence especially towards her daughter, Daisy.
Louisa, Richard’s second wife must muster the courage to step out of her husband’s shadow and her daughter’s manipulation to not only find a new form of self-assertion, but the beginning of an authentic happiness.
Dominic, Angela’s “man-child” of a husband must rectify his pacified relationship with his family, discover his inner strength, and define his manhood by making a logical and moral choice.
Alex, Dominic and Angela’s emotionally prepubescent son must learn beyond his libidinal urges and preoccupation with girls, sex, and his interest in sports and history to become a more empathetic character in answer to his family’s needs especially those of his younger brother, Benjy, to grow into the man he periodically rushes to become.
Daisy, Dominic and Angela’s newly liberated and pious daughter must come to terms with her newfound identity in the Christian church and beyond with the realization of a facet of herself in her true desires.
Benjy, their youngest, though extremely gifted and innocent beyond his years, must grapple with shyness, isolation, and the disappointment found in peeking inside the sometimes hypocritical and cruel, adult world.
And Melissa, Louisa’s disgruntled daughter manipulates and instills fear in those around her to mask the insatiable emptiness, resentment, and insecurity that plagues her as a privileged teenager of divorced parents. She is steely, mean-spirited, and hard at the fault of her immaturity and distrust, and what I think readers can assume to be severe loneliness.
Together these characters create a very real story amidst absurd and sometimes awkward circumstances. While I found the interchanging narrators somewhat confusing and difficult to read, it was only a matter of time needed to anticipate it and realign my reading style to Mark Haddon’s sometimes brash, yet honest and comedic narrative.
What I found most refreshing about the book is its treatment of its characters. They are importantly neither one-dimensional, nor do they fit the cliché of our assumptions by meeting a usually expected resolution in the story. Their issues continue throughout and most likely beyond the ending of the book. They fluctuate in what they reveal to us as characters, signifying at its very best, the innate complexity and nature of personality—and the turmoil, politic, and resignation to and from the inextinguishable ties of family.
The key to The Red House is a haunting promise of an open door.
A special thank you to Doubleday Canada, an imprint of Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.
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