Cultural Perspectives on Familial Belonging
“Behind everything there is always a house”: Family Ties in Mark Haddon’s The Red House
Mark Haddon’s 2012 novel The Red House opens with an estranged brother and sister arriving with their respective families for a week-long stay at a vacation home, the red house, near Hay-on-Wye in the Welsh countryside. Richard, the financially successful brother, plans and pays for this trip in order to reconnect with his sister Angela upon their mother’s death. He brings his second wife Louisa and her teenage daughter Melissa, and Angela arrives with her husband Dominic and their three children Daisy, Alex, and Benjy. The family members have to reconnect or get to know each other in the first place and the house, surrounded by hills and woods, serves as the setting for their reunion. To leave the house will prove dangerous to the characters, but to stay indoors brings about inevitable confrontation and the surfacing of secrets and past reproaches. New conflicts, which, at the end of the novel, will be eased or resolved only in part, will add to the isolation of the family members.
Being confined to a country house where characters have to interact, create new, unexpected bonds, possibly overcome old rivalries, and deal with their past, is an old topos and traditional setup for a story about family. I want to show how this topos is instrumental to Haddon’s novel and discuss the characters’ obsessions with time, history, and the house in which they are staying, which all turn into leitmotifs. Furthermore, I argue that the house mirrors the family...
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