Red House (Haddon)

The Red House
Mark Haddon, 2012
Knopf Doubleday
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0385535779


Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—September 26, 1962
Where—Northampton, UK
Education—Oxford University
Awards—Whitbread Book of the Year; Common-
   wealth Writer's Prize
Currently—lives in Oxford, England


Mark Haddon was born in Northampton and educated at Uppingham School and Merton College, Oxford, where he studied English. In 2003, Haddon won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and in 2004, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Overall Best First Book for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a book which is written from the perspective of a boy with Asperger syndrome. Haddon's knowledge of Asperger syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, comes from his work with autistic people as a young man. In an interview at Powells.com, Haddon claimed that this was the first book that he wrote intentionally for an adult audience; he was surprised when his publisher suggested marketing it to both adult and child audiences.

His second adult novel, A Spot of Bother, was published in September 2006, and The Red House in 2012.

Mark Haddon is also known for his series of Agent Z books, one of which, Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, was made into a 1996 Children's BBC sitcom. He also wrote the screenplay for the BBC television adaptation of Raymond Briggs's story Fungus the Bogeyman, screened on BBC1 in 2004. In 2007 he wrote the BBC television drama Coming Down the Mountain.

Haddon is a vegetarian, and enjoys vegetarian cookery. He describes himself as a 'hard-line atheist'. In an interview with The Observer, Haddon said "I am atheist in a very religious mould". His atheism might be inferred from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time in which the main character declares that those who believe in God are stupid.

In 2009, he donated the short story "The Island" to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Haddon's story was published in the Fire collection. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
[Haddon] is almost unrivalled at the notoriously tricky task of giving an authentic voice to children, and his ability to pinpoint the comic aspects of the everyday scenarios.
Sunday Times (UK)


Hugely enjoyable, sympathetic novel would make perfect reading for those setting out on holiday.
Observer (UK)


"[Haddon] writes like a dream. Never showy, but often lyrically descriptive, he takes the reader with him to the core of this crazy family. Secondly, he has a true understanding of the human heart.
Spectator (UK)


It’s every bit as charmingly idiosyncratic as his brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Daily Mirror (UK)


Engaging....From the first page in which the train carrying Dominic and Angela's family "unzips the fields", there is a vigor to Haddon's prose which carries you along. I read it twice, both times with enjoyment.
Independent (UK)


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


Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) sets his sights on the modern social novel with a seriously dysfunctional family. Radiologist Richard, newly remarried to Louisa, who has something of a “footballer’s wife” about her, hosts his resentful sister Angela and her family at his vacation home in the English countryside for the week. Both Richard’s new wife, and her cold-blooded 16-year-old daughter, Melissa, arouse the attentions of Angela’s teenage children: son Alex, and daughter Daisy, whose sexual curiosity might lead her to trouble. Angela’s uninterested husband, Dominic; their youngest son, Benjy; and the lurking ghost of their stillborn child round out the family. But most of all there’s the universe of media—from books and iPods to DVDs and video games—that fortifies everyone’s private world; intrudes upon a week of misadventures, grudges, and unearthed secrets; and illuminates Haddon’s busy approach to fairly sedate material, a choice that unfortunately makes the payoffs seldom worth the pages of scattershot perspective. Characters are well-drawn (especially regarding the marital tensions lurking below facades of relative bliss), but what emerges is typical without being revelatory, familiar without becoming painfully human. The tiresomely quirky Haddon misses the epochal timbre that Jonathan Franzen hit with Freedom, and his constantly distracted novel is rarely more than a distraction itself.
Publishers Weekly


Wealthy doctor Richard, having recently married trophy wife Louisa and inherited a teenage stepdaughter, the classically disaffected, aggressive Melissa, is feeling bad about his estrangement from sister Angela, particularly after Mum's death. So he invites Angela and her family—husband Dominic and three children—for a holiday at a rented house on the Welsh border. Could anything sound more grim and humdrum, not simply for the vacationers but for the reader? In fact, in the capable hands of British author Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), this is a stunning and absorbing read. The not unexpected happens—Richard and Angela scrap over who fared better in childhood; Angela's older son, Alex, struggles to shrug off teen dopiness and get it on with Melissa; misfit daughter Daisy, in a devout Christian phase, comes to a shattering new personal place; feckless Dominic's sins are revealed; and Benjy, still unplugged from adult tensions, plays Batman. Verdict: Refreshingly, Haddon takes the risk of making the ordinary extraordinary and succeeds; each character is poignantly real and each small trauma a revelation. And the language! Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal


(Starred review.) 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 Reviews



Discussion Questions
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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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