Mark Haddon - The Red House (4 stars)

Mark Haddon - The Red House

The Curious Incident author delivers a mature domestic drama for grown-ups

(Jonathan Cape)

Prolific author of children’s books and part-time writer of novels for adults, Mark Haddon’s latest is his most mature work to date. It’s mature in terms of both content and style, and reading The Red House there’s a sense that this ‘growing up’ is quite purposely Haddon’s intention.

In fact, it takes most of the opening 30-page section to get used to the impressionistic imagery, poetic language and stream-of-consciousness narrative that jumps from one narrator to another between pages and paragraphs. However, once you’re into Haddon’s groove, the storytelling really starts to dance off the page and The Red House becomes an effortlessly engrossing and richly rewarding read.

The subject matter itself – dysfunctional family in a domestic environment – is familiar enough, but Haddon’s treatment of the variously unstable relationships between estranged brother and sister Richard and Angela and their families (who are attempting to holiday together in the titular Edwardian pile in Wales following the death of their mother) feels fresh and rings true. Haddon also makes a determined effort to focus on the everyday and commonplace minutiae of family life in the early 21st century, and in doing so he pulls off the tricky task of making the mundane interesting.

There’s a quasi-supernatural element to the story in the haunting presence of Angela’s first, stillborn daughter, but Haddon keeps even that peripheral to her related psychological trauma. Ultimately, it’s the troubled psyches ensconced in the house that concern Haddon. His third book for oldies is all the better for it.

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