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.
Round 1 ~ The Characters/Narrators:
Haddon: An English extended family try to vacation together after the death of the sibling’s mother.
- Sister Angela ~ mother to three children, middle-aged, frumpy and not entirely enchanted with her life as a mother
- Brother Richard ~ golden-child, physician and newly married with teenage stepdaughter
- Dominic ~ Angela’s disenchanted husband of twenty years “She disgusted him now, the size and sag of her, the veins on her calves, almost a grandmother.”
- Alex ~ Angela and Dominic’s oldest son of 17 “the athlete, all shoulders and biceps…” and in terrible lust with Uncle Richard’s new stepdaughter, Melissa
- Daisy ~ Angela and Dominic’s middle child of 16 newly come to the Christian faith with convictions that both calm and strengthen her
- and Benjy ~ Angela and Dominic’s precocious eight year old and source of comic relief “I’m on horseback beheading Nazi zombies” and other such meanderings from the 8 year old’s mind deliver us from the angst of the entire family
- Louisa ~ wife to Richard, friend to Daisy and somewhat mother to Melissa from “working-class roots which she was trying to escape.”
- Melissa ~ Louisa’s daughter, Richard’s new step-daughter, age fifteen and struggling through the emotions of being a child of divorce and having discovered her unique gifts as a female “She walked into that room, heads turned and suddenly she understood.”
Yup, you read that correctly – there are eight narrators going back and forth throughout the novel
Hendrix: Man returns after lengthy absence, goes to see his woman and his key won’t fit in the lock no more
I like the Hendrix version – it’s simple. There’s not a lot of people to keep up with or emotional angst. Just a man, locked out, seeking a warm bodied woman. Simple.
Round 1 goes to Hendrix.
Round 2: The Inner Character
Haddon ~ The many characters reveal their angry, resentful, tired, and self-absorbed thoughts and feelings through dramatic monologue/stream-of-consciousness, dense lists and snippets of words to songs and literary works.
Hendrix ~The man reveals his inner self through song…and his ultimate dismissal of his woman for her sister.
Round 2 goes to Haddon. Hendrix’ man is a louse.
Round 3: The Action
Haddon ~ The two families meet for vacation on the coast of Wales for seven days. Each day is a new chapter. Is there a lot of action? No. More of internal and external conflict amongst family members.
Hendrix ~ Simple. Man disappears for 99 and one half days. Returns to find his woman has changed the locks. Man goes in search of woman’s sister “Cause if my baby don’t love me no more, I know her sister will.”
Round 3 goes to Haddon for complex literary success.
Round 4: The Authors
Haddon ~ famed author of The Curios Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. British novelist.
Hendrix ~ self-taught musician of iconic standards; eternal legend
Round 4 is a tie. Both men are iconic in their own right.
And the bout is a resolute tie. No clear winner. If you adore great music, love guitar rifts that go on forever and feel Hendrix is a legend’s whose life was cut way too short at age 28 then your vote for Hendrix will be duly noted in the comments.
Now, if you feel Haddon should win because he does have a bestseller and book awards for The Curios Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and he did create a complex, literary tour de force with The Red House, then your vote for Haddon will be noted.
What’s my opinion? Well, I tend to like things a bit more simplistic and Hendrix has that with his lyrics, although his music is a complex as they come. I felt that Haddon did a good job of peeling away layer upon layer of the intricacies of family that probably all of us endure in a novel that reveals how nothing is ever as clear as we think. Personally, it was a bit overwhelming to keep up with each of the 8 characters in The Red House. And, I prefer a novel with a lot more action – so this could be a case of The Red House was simply not my cup of tea. I’ve attempted to lay out the pieces of the puzzle in a manner so that you may decide if this book is right for you. Me? I’m off to watch Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child!
Which one gets your vote? Haddon or Hendrix?