By Andrea Nagel for The Times:
That’s a question Jonathan Franzen, whom I consider to be the master of the closely observed domestic drama, answers in the affirmative.
In both his novels, The Corrections and Freedom, he does a sterling job of making the inner psychological workings of the various characters fascinating – so much so that by the end of the book you have identified strongly with each individual.
Mark Haddon attempts something similar in his new book, The Red House.
Haddon’s first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was a master of point-of-view narrative told through the eyes of an intensely autistic child. The brilliance of that book is that, by the end, the reader has a good understanding of what it is like to be autistic.
In this book, Haddon’s third, the characters are beset by the conflicting and confusing everyday emotional turmoil of ordinary, middle-class people brought together by the random connection of blood.
The eight members of two families linked by a brother and sister who have recently lost their mother, have little in common.
A wealthy, middle-aged doctor, Richard, has invited his estranged sister Angela and her family on holiday to try and reconnect.
Richard has recently married beautiful, 40-something Louisa and has inherited a sexy, but bitchy teenage stepdaughter, Melissa.
Angela is in a loveless marriage with Dominic and they subtly compete for the affections of their three children, 17-year-old Alex, 16-year-old Daisy and eight-year-old Benjy.
Over a week the family get to know each other and themselves better as they go through various minor traumas, confrontations and epiphanies.
The narrative is written in a free flow of consciousness of each character.
The point of view changes randomly, giving the reader an insight to their inner worlds.
At first this technique is confusing as the reader struggles to understand whose point of view is being followed, but as each character becomes more fully formed and identifiable, knowing who’s thinking what becomes easier.
Through arguments, jealousy, alliances, breakdowns, kindness and misunderstandings, the characters are forced to confront their issues and discover more about themselves.
Unlike with Franzen’s two novels, the question remains: do I care enough about each character to find their problems interesting? For some characters his technique works. Daisy, who is courageous enough to admit that perhaps she’s been wrong about everything, is well-rounded. Others, less so.
In the end, Haddon seems to be saying that this is the most important role of the family: ”Who [else] will share those growing frustrations and pore over the million petty details of that long-shared soap opera that means nothing to others?”
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