Having LOVED The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and liked A Spot of Bother, I was excited to see that Mark Haddon had a new novel out and so I snapped up a copy in my local second-hand shop.
The premise of the story is this; after his mother’s death, Richard tries to reunite what is left of his family by taking his sister, her husband and children to a remote village on the Welsh border together with his new wife and stepdaughter. Trapped together for a week, the two families should have no choice but to bond however, secrets are revealed and relationships threatened.
The next paragraph may contain spoilers.
I used to think that this kind of book was my thing but I’m coming to realise that actually I want a bit more action from my books. Not that I want bombs going off left, right and centre or gory deaths every other chapter, I just want something to happen. And that’s what The Red House was missing. Yes secrets were revealed but there were no real repercussions, a few pages later all would be forgiven and everyone would move on. There was nothing huge and life-shattering and by the end of the week there didn’t seem to be any momentous changes (except for Daisy perhaps). If you’re going to write this kind of character-driven book then things (and people) need to develop, you can’t just bring something up and then let it drop. If you give a character a mental illness you have to commit to it, she won’t be all better in a couple of days. And the same with extra-marital affairs, threats, bullying, suicide and the other half-arsed stuff going on here. There was a real lack of commitment to the storylines which bugged me.
So that was the story but now we come to what really irritated me here was the writing. I put up a post a few days ago about the importance of good dialogue and it was partly to vent my frustrations with this book.
It was incredibly hard to follow conversations while reading The Red House because the vast majority of the dialogue was not attributed to any of the characters. And not only that but speech wasn’t written in the usual ‘inverted commas’ but instead was written in italics which is the only way it was differentiated from the rest of the text. Ergo I was a good few pages in before I twigged that it was in fact speech and not just phrases worth highlighting. However even once I’d had that epiphany it was still not clear-cut as often characters would recall a memory which would also be written in italics but wasn’t something they were saying out loud.
All in all it was quite confusing.
And I’m not done yet. The whole book was written as a ‘stream of consciousness’ with the viewpoint altering between characters every few paragraphs (there were breaks between viewpoint in a rare effort to make things clear).
I dislike the stream of consciousness form of narration as I feel it imparts a lot of unnecessary information that the reader could quite happily live without. Since I’ve been writing this post I’ve scratched my ear, checked my phone and wondered whether I should have a biscuit but there’s no need for you to know these things are there?
I also found chopping and changing between characters so frequently to be very distracting, it was hard to keep up with who was narrating and I found that I was switching off more often than not. Then there were the occasional paragraphs where no one was telling the story and Haddon was just showing off his ability to list objects and which served no purpose as far as I could tell.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I loved A Curious Incident… but I only liked Haddon’s next offering and having disliked this one I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of his work. It’s a real shame but looking at reviews of The Red House I’m not alone in my opinion.