Tag Archives: angst

Book Review: The Red House by Mark Haddon

Title: The Red House
Author: Mark Haddon
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224096409
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Mark Haddon writes, you sit up and take notice. There are no two ways to that thought – at least not for me. I remember reading, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in 2003 and being taken in by the spectacular writing style and the first person narration. In the same way, I enjoyed reading, “A Spot of Bother” – very different from the first one and equally breath-taking.

I was then mailed an Advanced Reader’s Copy of, “The Red House” and my joy knew no bounds. The book is about middle-class angst and it works on so many levels, in terms of being able to relate to it. A great deal does not happen in the book. Do not expect twists and turns. Having said that, the book is a great read.

An adult brother and sister take their respective families on a holiday together in a cottage in Wales, following their mother’s death. The book is about the eight main characters’ thoughts, interactions with each other, and individual experiences. In my experience, when narratives shift in almost every chapter, the novel becomes boring and confusing to the reader. This does not happen with this book. Each character has a distinct voice (one of the clear talents of a good writer) and knows what to say and when.

The characters are: Angela, the sister and a working mom, on the verge of a breakdown, Dominic – Angela’s unemployed husband, their teenage son Alex, their religious daughter Daisy, their young son Benjy – living in his fantasy world, Richard – Angela’s estranged brother, Louisa – his wife and Melissa, his manipulative daughter.

Through these characters Haddon plays a week in the book, moving between each character – almost as swiftly as paragraph to the next. The book gave me the ever-changing, fascinating and the feeling that I was looking through a looking glass. The eight of them have their own secrets, longings and resentments which only make them as human as you and I. The writing zips in montages and sometimes it becomes difficult to figure who is carrying the baton, though once you get used to the writing, it isn’t difficult to figure.

The language and symbolism is weaved very well for a story of a dysfunctional family. In some parts, it almost reminded me of Faulkner’s, “The Sound and the Fury”, however those parts were rare. As a reader, you are left with many questions of the families’ future at the end of the book, but I guess that’s a great job done for the writer, if his/her readers are still thinking about the characters, way after the book has been devoured.

The Red House by Mark Haddon is a rollercoaster of emotions and all it works surprisingly well and all adds up at the end of the book. I would definitely and most certainly recommend this read for the long summer weekend that comes up.

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Third Best by Arjun Rao

I remember how I used to shudder at the thought of being sent to a “boarding school” when I was young. I would do something bratty and my parents would threaten me with the usual, “We will send you far away from home”. Little did I know at that time, what that would have felt like, had I been sent away. Sadly I was not – there were all false threats anyway which I soon came to realize.

As I grew up and so did my social circle so to say, I envied friends and colleagues alike who had had the boarding school experience. The night escapades and the encounters with teachers at odd-hours or the fear of getting caught and not waking up on time and many such incidents I would sadly only hear of from them, having never experienced them myself.

And then a book arrived on these experiences right in my hand to read and review – Third Best by K.V. Arjun Rao, published by Hachette India. “Third Best” is one of those reads that everyone would connect with – it is but after all about school and of those days gone by. We leave school with a sense of sadness and then remember it with a sense of nostalgia; however school memories are the only ones that are more etched than the others, as we traverse through life and its improbabilities.

Third Best centres around the story of boarders on board – set in the fictional Shore Mount School (based and conceptualized after The Lawrence School where the author studied and The Doon School, where the author now teaches), the small lies sometimes told and the heartaches, the chores and the nicknames and the teachers with their eccentricities and quirks, and not to forget the bullies and the bullying which is a part and parcel of school, I guess.

Though Nirvan is the protagonist of the book, the story revolves around the lives of his friends Faraz, Gautam, Adi and Billy as well. While Gautam is the noisy and obnoxious being, who doesn’t get frazzled by the bullies, Faraz is the most sophisticated of the lot, with his ideals and morals strongly set.

Third Best makes you want to relive the school days. It touches upon the expectations of parents’ vis-à-vis what the children want to do (and no, this is not a run-down theme, no matter how many times repeated). It is about shaping one’s thoughts and mind so to say amidst all the pressure and expectations.

The book is real and it speaks with you at ease. It is like a friend who you can discuss memories with and which will remain for a long time to come. After reading the book, there was this sudden surge of emotions in me that made me want to contact my school friends, no matter where they were and find out more about their lives. Third Best will make you want to go back to school for sure. Read it for its capacity to transport you to another world that you were once a part of.

Third Best; Rao, Arjun; Hachette India; Rs. 295