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by Mark Haddon. Read by Nathaniel Parker

5*

Once again Mark Haddon demonstrates his remarkable ability to hone tight, true and fascinating glimpses of humanity through the simplest and most mundane of situations. The Red House is enjoyably engaging, with a deep dark undercurrent; a beautiful blend of the mundane and esoteric in the most everyday of circumstances.

An extended family spend a first holiday together in a rural cottage. Estranged for 15 years, Richard and his sister Angela meet again at their mother’s funeral, then Richard invites Angela and her family to share a family holiday near Hay on Wye. The Red House is a ship of fools story in which not very much happens on the outside, inside the heads of the characters lies a whole other world; everyone – of course – has a secret, a trauma, everyone has their own demons to exorcise and to say more about any one of them would be to spoil.

As so often with Haddon’s work, it’s the child who has all the best lines. 8 year old Benji – ‘a kind of boy-liquid which had been poured into whatever space he happened to be occupying’ – is the most engaging and likeable character. Refreshingly honest, Benji serves as the Voice of naïve Truth amidst the secrets, lies and double-dealings of the adult’s interactions. An omniscient point-of-view takes us into the minds of each character as an individual, and Haddon’s trademark misunderstandings – each individual never truly sees the motivation of any of the others – run like a dark thread through the intricate tapestry of the whole, emphasising the solitude of each human existence.

Everything is graced by Haddon’s astonishing writing. The detail of a week in a Welsh cottage, blighted by rain and unrelieved boredom, is exquisitely described: ‘Scrabble, a tatty box in some drawer, a pack of fifty-one playing cards, a pamphlet from a goat farm.’
`Cooling towers and sewage farms… Seventy miles per hour, the train unzips the fields. Two gun-grey lines beside the river’s meander. Flashes of sun on the hammered metal. Something of steam about it, even now. Hogwarts and Adelstrop. The night mail crossing the border… That train smell, burning dust, hot brakes, the dull reek of the toilets.’
‘The bandage on the vicar’s hand, that woman chasing her windblown hat between the headstones, the dog that belonged to no one.’

Nathaniel Parker’s narration is wonderfully understated, each character comes through clearly defined without the need for ‘voices’, or over-dramatised characterisation. Sublime.

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