Synopses & Reviews
A dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family, from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
The set-up of Mark Haddon's brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.
But because of Haddon's extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family.
The Red House is a literary tour-de-force that illuminates the puzzle of family in a profoundly empathetic manner — a novel sure to entrance the millions of readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
"Absorbing....Even if you don’t see your relatives in these pages, you’ll learn to appreciate their ungainly efforts to reach out and maintain those old filial bonds....What holds our interest is Haddon’s extraordinary sympathy, his ability to reveal what stirs these people beneath their congenial holiday faces...a brilliant portrayal of the asymmetric nature of resentment within families....But it’s Hardon’s peculiar structure that raises this family drama to something exceptional. He’s perfected a constantly shifting perspective that keeps our sympathies from taking root in any one of these characters...the effect is symphonic....Haddon wends a careful path in this novel between the effervescent comedy of quirky families and the bitter tragedy of dysfunctional ones." The Washington Post
"A story of remarkable complexity, exploring the rich interior lives of his characters....Most impressive is the ambitious structure of this novel...there's an abundance of dark humor...the story moves along swiftly and seamlessly." USA Today
“In this absorbing, Virginia Woolf-esque novel by the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, an extended family gathers for a week in the English countryside. Perfect (or not) for that holiday with the in-laws.” People
"The story unfolds from all eight characters’ points of view, a tricky strategy that pays off, letting Haddon dig convincingly into all of the failures, worries and weaknesses that they can’t leave behind." Entertainment Weekly
"Particularly fresh and true." O Magazine
"In Mark Haddon's The Red House, a nuclear family detonates delightfully...particular, vivid, attentive...a wonderful perspective." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Haddon peers inside the messy dynamics of a group of relatives, each grappling with their own fears and trying to make sense of themselves as a family...braids together themes of sexual identity, parental insecurity and sibling rivalry, and no one gets away unscathed." NPR
"Surprising and deeply moving...the set-up ensures that there will be revelations, twists and shifts in the family dynamic...sustaining suspense...while enriching the developing relationships among people...organic rather than contrived, the characters convincing throughout, the tone compassionate and the writing wise. A novel to savor." Kirkus, starred review
"It’s every bit as charmingly idiosyncratic as his brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." The Daily Mirror
One of The Washington Post's "50 Notable Works of Fiction" of 2012
From Mark Haddon, the bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, comes a dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family life.
Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister and her family to join his family for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Against the backdrop of a strange family gathering, Haddon skillfully weaves together the stories of eight very different people forced into close quarters. The Red House is a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly guarded secrets and illicit desires, painting a portrait of contemporary family life that is at once bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt.
About the Author
Mark Haddon is the author of the international bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year award; and the New York Times bestseller A Spot of Bother. In addition to The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has also written and illustrated numerous award-winning children's books and television screenplays.
Reading Group Guide
1. What role does the Welsh landscape play in The Red House?
How might this story be different if it portrayed an American family? Where would you set the story and what points of American culture would you add?
2. To what extent, if at all, did you see your family or your own family vacations reflected in The Red House?
3. What roles do death and absence play in the narrative? Discuss mortality as it relates to the characters of Angela, Richard, Karen, and Melissa.
4. Which character did you identify with most? Which characters would you want to spend a week with in a secluded vacation setting? Who seemed the most likable? The most perplexing?
5. Discuss the dining room table as a microcosm of the familial vacation experience. How do shifting places at the table reflect changing relationships and characters’ internal and external struggles? Talk about the role seating order plays in your own family or groups of friends.
6. Discuss inner monologue as a plot device. What are the recurring themes of the inner monologue of each character? Give examples of how the characters’ inner monologues come to light and come to the attention of other characters. How do the involved parties deal with the divulgence of these intimacies?
7. Romance, lust and longing weave themselves through the novel. Discuss the romantic and sexual urges of Louisa, Alex, Dominic, and Daisy. Are there any parallels between them? How do romantic overtures affect the other inhabitants of the red house?
8. What role does the house itself play in this novel? How might a different physical structure bring about alternate results for the characters? On another structural note, the novel is broken into sections, each titled with a day of the week.
9. Ian McEwan, Shakespeare, and the Legend of the Willow (Koong-se and Chang) all make appearances in the novel. What functions do these literary references serve in plot and character development?
10. On page 116, Daisy is reading Dracula, which Haddon quotes: “We need have no secrets amongst us. Working together and with absolute trust, we can surely be stronger than if some of us were in the dark.” What resonance does this quote have in this context? How does it relate to matters at hand between the members of Richard’s and Angela’s family? To your own family?
11. From the start of the book, photography comes into play as a method of immortalizing landscape and human experience. What visual snapshots stick with you from the novels?
12. Where do you think the members of Richard and Angela’s families will find themselves in two months? Five years? Two decades? How might incidents from the vacation play themselves out in the future?
13. Benjy’s inscription in the visitor’s book reads, "I liked walking up the hill and the rain storm and shepherds pie at the granary." Do you think this is poignant? Explain why or why not. What is left out?