Two messy families converge in the countryside for a week of relaxation and complicated relationship drama in the third adult novel by Mark Haddon, author of the 2003 best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Angela and Richard are siblings in their 40s who've grown apart over the past 20 years, and they've brought their spouses and kids together at a rented house in sleepy Herefordshire, England, hoping to repair their relationship after the death of their mother. The story unfolds from all eight characters' points of view, a tricky strategy that pays off, letting Haddon dig convincingly into all of the failures, worries, and weaknesses that they can't leave behind during this pause in their lives.
The Red House is a relatively slender 264 pages, and an awful lot happens over the course of one implausibly fraught week: a life-changing revelation, a mental breakdown, a near-death misadventure, and assorted other secrets, confrontations, and serious situations. But this is a more modest book than its overstuffed plot suggests. The tone is as subdued as the setting, and Haddon is more interested in these characters' loneliness and inability to truly understand one another than in his story's twists and turns. Ultimately, it's the struggle for familial connection that resonates the most; Haddon captures the way good intentions so often lead to botched conversations about the things that really matter. It's a portrait of unhappy people in close proximity but still mostly alone, their minds elsewhere, their differences likely insurmountable. B+