BOOKS Red House doesn’t hold its weight

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - Break­ing news at calgaryherald.com ROBERT J. WIERSEMA

There’s some­thing ap­pro­pri­ate (nay, clev­erly con­ceived) about The Red House, the new novel by Mark Had­don, pub­lished in June. With sum­mer upon us, thoughts are turn­ing to va­ca­tions, and what, it seems, could be bet­ter than a novel about the un­pleas­ant­ness that can The Red House be­fall a by Mark Had­fam­ily don (Dou­ble­day hol­i­day?

Canada, 272 Con­cep­pages, $29.95) tu­ally, The

Red House is promis­ing. Fol­low­ing the death of their mother, es­tranged sib­lings Richard and An­gela de­cide to bring their re­spec­tive fam­i­lies to­gether for a week of hol­i­days at a rental house in the English coun­try­side.

The es­trange­ment be­tween the brother and sis­ter is only one source of po­ten­tial drama. Richard, a doc­tor fac­ing a court hear­ing over mal­prac­tice, has only re­cently mar­ried Louisa, a woman with some­thing of a check­ered past and a prob­lem­atic, veg­e­tar­ian teenage daugh­ter, Melissa. An­gela has been mar­ried to Do­minic for al­most 20 years, and they have three chil­dren.

It’s fer­tile ground for drama, and Had­don doesn’t skimp on that front: old se­crets are re­vealed, and new se­crets hid­den. De­sires rise and fall. There are open ar­gu­ments and sore feel­ings, and one in­ci­dent of true, life-and-death peril.

De­spite the premise and the drama, how­ever, the novel doesn’t re­ally work.

Had­don tells the story from the in­di­vid­u­al­ized points of view of each char­ac­ter, shift­ing among them with­out any marker as to who is speak­ing, of­ten mul­ti­ple times on the same page.

While mul­ti­ple-pointof-view nov­els can work, The Red House doesn’t. By us­ing the third-per­son per­spec­tive for all of the points of view, Had­don cre­ates a uni­for­mity of voice that makes the shift be­tween char­ac­ters dif­fi­cult to fol­low.

Quick shifts in point of view also ham­pers any sense of ef­fec­tive char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment.

De­spite the dif­fer­ences be­tween, say, Richard and Do­minic — the for­mer a wealthy doc­tor, the lat­ter a phi­lan­derer who has lost his job and is mak­ing ends meet work­ing at a book­store — Had­don’s ap­proach makes it dif­fi­cult to keep them straight.

The chil­dren emerge more clearly as char­ac­ters, but that’s largely a mat­ter of de­gree; I can’t say that any of the char­ac­ters in the book are well-rounded.

It’s frus­trat­ing to read a novel as full of prom­ise as The Red House, es­pe­cially one from an au­thor as beloved as Had­don (whose The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-Time was bril­liant in ev­ery re­spect), which col­lapses so res­o­lutely un­der the weight of its own con­struc­tion and pre­ten­sions.

Thank­fully, it’s as rare an oc­cur­rence as it is frus­trat­ing.

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