Tuesday, 29 May 2012
The Red House by Mark Haddon | Families in Crisis
Basically we have a sort of situation drama on our hands. Brother and sister Richard and Angela do not have the closest of bonds, but after the passing of their mother, they go on a holiday to a small town in Wales together. Angela is bringing her husband Dominic, her daughter Daisy, and her two sons Alex and Benjy, as well as the ghost of a daughter that didn't live. Richard comes along with his new wife Louisa and her daughter Melissa. The scene is set for long hours of reading (for our characters), less pleasant trips down memory lane, revelations, conflict and confrontation.
The families try to keep entertained throughout the duration of their stay by going to town, reading, "sightseeing" and going for walks. However, all of them bring emotional baggage with them, and this is forced to the surface as the days pass. Richard's problems at work, Dom's infidelity, Melissa's bitchiness, Daisy's secret, and Angela's grief over a child that died 18 years ago. As the secrets are revealed, some of the characters inch closer and closer to a breakdown.
What is interesting is the relationships between parents and children, and how they keep changing. Angela struggles with Daisy, whereas Dominic is the "cool" parent. However, when Daisy's secret is brought out, it is her mother she seeks. There is also a sense that disillusion and disappointment work both ways. The parents might dislike who their children are becoming, but as the children mature, they see their parents for who they really are. Angela herself must face this, as her memories of her dad differs from the view Richard portrays.
What is initially striking about the novel is that all the characters are focalizers in the story, i.e. the point of view of the story keeps changing from one person to the next. This happens without warning, and in the beginning it was a bit hard to keep up with who was thinking what. Additionally, the dialogue is all in italics rather than inverted commas, which increases the confusion. It feels like we are inside the characters heads, and the italics underline the monotony and silence of the place.
What I love about Mark Haddon is that the families and problems he portray are so recognizable. And he is not afraid to broach any subject. I love how his characters are forced to not only confront others, but themselves. And I love the tenderness with which he portrays children. There is something so genuine and real about them, funny and confusing at the same time. There are not a lot of authors out there who has skill in that department. Haddon balances between funny and sad, but he never lets us down, and brings the book to a worthy conclusion. We might not have solutions to everything, we might only have seen a glimpse of these people's lives, but we do feel we were present at a pivotal moment. And when the families have packed up and left, all that remains to witness they were ever there are the used books they bought and left behind.