What happens when you write a beautiful, touching, funny, poignant book? People have high expectations for any books that come after.
Such was the fate of Mark Haddon‘s The Red House, after the success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I read the latter over Christmas so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind and also? I loved it.
I was really excited for The Red House (as you are when the author of a book you loved releases a new title), so when it was the first book I saw at the library, I happily tucked it under my arm as my first pick of the day.
The Red House is the story of a family vacation that might be more dysfunctional than yours! Richard and Angela are estranged siblings, and after the death of their mother, Richard decides that maybe it would be nice to vacation together and he rents a house in Wales for both of their families for a week.
Richard has recently married Louisa who, along with her own dirty little secrets, brings a willful bitch of a teenage daughter, Melissa, to the relationship. On the other side of the spectrum is Angela who has been married to Dominic for years but their relationship is a mess. Dominic has been laid off and feels like his life has no direction, while Angela feels all the pressure to be the breadwinner and is still dealing with something that happened 18 years ago. Their children, Alex, Daisy and Benjy each have their own things going on so that everyone is pretty disconnected from everyone else.
Have you ever heard of Hay-on-Wye? Just me then? The story takes place in the little Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye which just happens to be one of the places in the world that I most want to visit. It’s a town full of bookshops! More bookshops than anywhere else in the world! And they have a literary festival every year! So yeah, the story takes place here. Which I thought would be more exciting, but it really wasn’t. I still desperately want to go. I guess I just hoped that the town of bookshops would be more of an active setting. Maybe someone found a book there that changed their lives. You know, how books do.
Overall, The Red House was OK. I think it was a very honest portrayal of what it would be like to go on vacation with people in your family that you don’t know very well. It wasn’t particularly dramatic but it wasn’t overly exciting either. The one story that really stood out for me was the one involving Daisy, Angela and Dominic’s 16 year old daughter. She’s really struggling with who she is and her family isn’t making it any easier on her.
Not that anyone’s family ever makes anything easier on them.
I guess the problem with The Red House was that it wasn’t The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a very unfair thing to do to a book but we can never help ourselves on that count can we?