x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The Red House: intense family friction in a tranquil country setting

It may be low on action but this book is jam-packed with intensity.

The Red House by Mark Haddon
The Red House by Mark Haddon

The Red House of Mark Haddon’s imagining is situated in the rolling Welsh hillside, flanked by sheep on one side and “Londoners pretending to be interested in the country” on the other. It is charming enough to endear itself to Richard, a successful medical consultant who invites his sister, Angela, and her family to join him, his new wife and stepdaughter, down in the countryside for a short break.

Take eight family members – three of whom are teenagers in the prime of their adolescent confusion – in an area isolated enough for functioning mobile-phone signals to be considered a rarity and the resulting tension seems ready to froth after a few hours. While the friction of past childhood resentment hangs heavy between Richard and Angela, the clash of personalities between the teenagers offers the most revelatory insights into a family divided.

Haddon’s close attention to the unfulfilled needs and desires of his characters borders on claustrophobic, thanks to his use of multiple perspectives forced within the confines of four walls. Although low on action, The Red House seethes with palpable intensity.