Friday, September 14, 2012

The Red House is Full of People

The Red House: A NovelThe Red House: A Novel by Mark Haddon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You probably recall the quirky narrative voice from the author's previous book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which, full disclosure, I loved). This time around, though, Haddon shifts the narrative perspective amongst his ensemble cast of four adults and four children. I have discovered that I really, really hate when I start reading a bit of dialogue and have no idea who's speaking. (That's actually the primary reason I abandoned Girl Reading, it drove me so insane.) In this book, I felt like I kept running into passages like this one:
I poured myself another glass of the Monbazillac. As I raised it to my lips something moved in the darkened hallway. Was it the white shoe? My heart hammered, the stimulus rushing through my sensory cortex and hypothalamus to the brain stem, flooding my body with adrenaline. I walked over and found that my coat had slipped off its hook.
The problem was, I didn't remember Monbazillac being mentioned, and what white shoe??? Eventually I realized it was an excerpt from a novel one of the characters is reading, so really, it's just put in there to be confusing, as far as I can tell. Grrrr.

And so when I was about twenty-five pages into this book, I was thinking it would be a close call on whether it managed to get two stars from me. Besides the ongoing problem with knowing whose perspective I was reading from, I also had trouble for the first quarter of the book remembering the characters' relationships. Two adult women and two adult men form two married couples, but one of the women is the sister of the man she's not married to, and I just had trouble keeping it straight. The kids were easier: a teenage boy, rather stereotypically but probably realistically full of hormones; a haughty teenage girl used to being popular but secretly insecure; a misfit teenage girl who's recently found religion, making everyone else a bit uncomfortable; and a pre-teen boy, the kind who begs for a toy sword in a souvenir shop and can entertain himself with it for hours afterward. Perhaps not surprisingly, that last character was easily my favorite:
He occupies, still, a little circle of attention, no more than eight meters in diameter at most. If stuff happens beyond this perimeter he simply doesn't notice unless it involves explosions or his name being yelled angrily.
So it took me awhile to settle into this one, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The stream-of-consciousness style is not my favorite; the sentence fragments can be a bit annoying.
Judy Hecker at work. Awful breath. Ridiculous that it should be a greater offense to point this out. Arnica on the shelf above his shaver. Which fool did that belong to? Homeopathy on the N.H.S. now. Prince Charles twisting some civil servant’s arm no doubt.
But in the end, almost despite myself, I found myself wrapped up in the intricate family dramas -- in the way each person's secrets implicate others, affect their behaviors, and change their relationships. I'd say worth a read, especially given that it's a quick one.

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