THE RED HOUSE. By Mark Haddon. Doubleday. 264 pages. $25.95
Writers of fiction usually choose between using the first person or the third for their narrative structure. In novels with an emphasis on dialogue there may be two, and sometimes more, first-person narrators.
In “The Red House,” Mark Haddon uses eight. Indeed, there may be four or five first-person voices in a single paragraph.
A pointillist artist compels the viewer to step back to obtain a big-picture perspective; otherwise a close look only yields thousands of tiny, disjointed brush strokes or dots.
So it is with Haddon’s clever and creative technique. By having to piece together eight different, and usually discordant voices, the reader must expend considerable energy assembling the literally thousands of tiny pieces of the picture.
Haddon’s follow-up to his widely praised “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” takes place during one week in the lives of some tenuously connected British souls on holiday in Herefordshire.
There is a wealthy surgeon; his new second wife and her daughter; and the surgeon’s sister, husband and three children ranging in age from 8 to 16. By sorting through their many thoughts, spoken and unspoken, we come to understand the strange and sometimes poignant relationships.
But it is not easy. The cacophonous jumble of dialogue conceals more than it reveals. While several critics have raved about Haddon’s creativity, others may find that he is more enamored of technique than of the art of storytelling.
The three teenagers, with more conflicts and hormones than they can manage, oc-cupy a large portion of the narrative. Their musings, and occasionally their actions, are depicted with enough crudeness as to become tiresome.
While the creation of images is very original and creative, that alone does not make for an enjoyable read. There are just too many moving parts for the reader to discern a coherent theme.
Reviewer Frank L. Cloutier, a retired engineer living in Hanahan