Haunted House

Sometimes, I'll pick up a book based on a good review or good word-of-mouth. Sometimes, I'll pick one up because someone whose taste I trust has specifically recommended it to me. And sometimes, I'll pick up a book simply because I've enjoyed the author's past work. Mark Haddon's 2012 novel The Red House falls into that last category. His remarkable 2003 book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, put him on my radar, and his new book landed on my to-read list before I even knew much about its plot.

About midway through the story, one of the characters considers a book of poetry. She really wants to like it, to be carried away in the beauty of the writing, but it just doesn't suit her. Her other concerns weigh her down too much to delve into the complexities of the poems. Unfortunately, I have to say that I viewed this book the same way. As a series of loosely connected scenes, written to explore the inner mental turmoil of its characters, it has a lot going for it. As a story with a beginning, middle, and end, it falls short.

Ostensibly, The Red House is about a distant brother and sister whose families are brought together for a week of vacation in a country house following the death of their mother after a long illness. More to the point, it's about the thoughts racing through each of the family members' heads, and how they view one another. Needless to say, nobody is viewed as a paean of virtue. As a one-act play, the comparison of people's outward behavior and their inner neuroses would be fascinating. And was! As a full-length novel, you begin to wonder when these people will stop internally wringing their hands and just get on with it.

This novel is a good example of why I usually give a book a hundred pages to engage me before I give up. It was perilously close to becoming the first work to be tossed on the "Unfinished" pile this year, but by page 100, I had become more interested in the individual scenes, if not the story as a whole. By the time I reached the end, I was glad I stuck with it. Still, I tend to approach art with the same pragmatic eye I approach the rest of life with. And that's why I'll always prefer Hopper to Pollock, Austen to Dickinson, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to this.

The Red House: C+


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