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The Red House
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
A Spot of Bother

The Red HouseBook Cover of The Red House

The set-up of Mark Haddon's brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over. But because of Haddon's extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family (From the publisher). Click here to read the full book review.


1. What role does the Welsh landscape play in The Red House? How might this story be different if it portrayed an American family? Where would you set the story and what points of American culture would you add?
2. To what extent, if at all, did you see your family or your own family vacations reflected in The Red House?
3. What roles do death and absence play in the narrative? Discuss mortality as it relates to the characters of Angela, Richard, Karen, and Melissa.
4. Which character did you identify with most? Which characters would you want to spend a week with in a secluded vacation setting? Who seemed the most likable? The most perplexing?
5. Discuss the dining room table as a microcosm of the familial vacation experience. How do shifting places at the table reflect changing relationships and characters’ internal and external struggles? Talk about the role seating order plays in your own family or groups of friends.
6. Discuss inner monologue as a plot device. What are the recurring themes of the inner monologue of each character? Give examples of how the characters’ inner monologues come to light and come to the attention of other characters. How do the involved parties deal with the divulgence of these intimacies?
7. Romance, lust and longing weave themselves through the novel. Discuss the romantic and sexual urges of Louisa, Alex, Dominic, and Daisy. Are there any parallels between them? How do romantic overtures affect the other inhabitants of the red house?
8. What role does the house itself play in this novel? How might a different physical structure bring about alternate results for the characters? On another structural note, the novel is broken into sections, each titled with a day of the week.
9. Ian McEwan, Shakespeare, and the Legend of the Willow (Koong-se and Chang) all make appearances in the novel. What functions do these literary references serve in plot and character development?
10. On page 116, Daisy is reading Dracula, which Haddon quotes: “We need have no secrets amongst us. Working together and with absolute trust, we can surely be stronger than if some of us were in the dark.” What resonance does this quote have in this context? How does it relate to matters at hand between the members of Richard’s and Angela’s family? To your own family?
11. From the start of the book, photography comes into play as a method of immortalizing landscape and human experience. What visual snapshots stick with you from the novels?
12. Where do you think the members of Richard and Angela’s families will find themselves in two months? Five years? Two decades? How might incidents from the vacation play themselves out in the future?
13. Benjy’s inscription in the visitor’s book reads, "I liked walking up the hill and the rain storm and shepherds pie at the granary." Do you think this is poignant? Explain why or why not. What is left out?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonBook Cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Winner, 2003 Whitbread Prize and Commonwealth Writer's Prize. Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing. Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind. And herein lies the key to the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion. The effect is dazzling, making for a novel that is deeply funny, poignant, and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing is a mind that perceives the world literally. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the freshest debuts in years: a comedy, a heartbreaker, a mystery story, a novel of exceptional literary merit that is great fun to read (these comments are from the Publisher). Click here to read the full book review.


1. On pages 45–48, Christopher describes his "Behavioral Problems" and the effect they had on his parents and their marriage. What is the effect of the dispassionate style in which he relates this information?
2. Given Christopher's aversion to being touched, can he experience his parents' love for him, or can he only understand it as a fact, because they tell him they love him? Is there any evidence in the novel that he experiences a sense of attachment to other people?
3. One of the unusual aspects of the novel is its inclusion of many maps and diagrams. How effective are these in helping the reader see the world through Christopher's eyes?
4. What challenges does The Curious Incident present to the ways we usually think and talk about characters in novels? How does it force us to reexamine our normal ideas about love and desire, which are often the driving forces in fiction? Since Mark Haddon has chosen to make us see the world through Christopher's eyes, what does he help us discover about ourselves?
5. Christopher likes the idea of a world with no people in it [p. 2]; he contemplates the end of the world when the universe collapses [pp. 10–11]; he dreams of being an astronaut, alone in space [pp. 50–51], and that a virus has carried off everyone and the only people left are "special people like me" [pp. 198–200]. What do these passages say about his relationship to other human beings? What is striking about the way he describes these scenarios?
6. On pages 67–69, Christopher goes into the garden and contemplates the importance of description in the book he is writing. His teacher Siobhan told him "the idea of a book was to describe things using words so that people could read them and make a picture in their own head" [p. 67]. What is the effect of reading Christopher's extended description, which begins, "I decided to do a description of the garden" and ends "Then I went inside and fed Toby"? How does this passage relate to a quote Christopher likes from The Hound of the Baskervilles: "The world is full of obvious things which nobody by chance ever observes" [p. 73]?
7. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, Hans Asperger, the doctor whose name is associated with the kind of autism that Christopher seems to have, notes that some autistic people have "a sort of intelligence scarcely touched by tradition and culture --- unconventional, unorthodox, strangely pure and original, akin to the intelligence of true creativity" [An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks, NY: Vintage Books, 1995, pp. 252–53]. Does the novel's intensive look at Christopher's fascinating and often profound mental life suggest that in certain ways, the pity that well-meaning, "normal" people might feel for him is misdirected? Given his gifts, does his future look promising?
8. Christopher experiences the world quantitatively and logically. His teacher Mr. Jeavons tells him that he likes math because it's safe. But Christopher's explanation of the Monty Hall problem gives the reader more insight into why he likes math. Does Mr. Jeavons underestimate the complexity of Christopher's mind and his responses to intellectual stimulation? Does Siobhan understand Christopher better than Mr. Jeavons?
9. Think about what Christopher says about metaphors and lies and their relationship to novels [pp. 14–20]. Why is lying such an alien concept to him? In his antipathy to lies, Christopher decides not to write a novel, but a book in which "everything I have written . . . is true" [p. 20]. Why do "normal" human beings in the novel, like Christopher's parents, find lies so indispensable? Why is the idea of truth so central to Christopher's narration?
10. Which scenes are comical in this novel, and why are they funny? Are these same situations also sad, or exasperating?
11. Christopher's conversations with Siobhan, his teacher at school, are possibly his most meaningful communications with another person. What are these conversations like, and how do they compare with his conversations with his father and his mother?
12. One of the primary disadvantages of the autistic is that they can't project or intuit what other people might be feeling or thinking --- as illustrated in the scene where Christopher has to guess what his mother might think would be in the Smarties tube [pp. 115–16]. When does this deficit become most clear in the novel? Does Christopher seem to suffer from his mental and emotional isolation, or does he seem to enjoy it?
13. Christopher's parents, with their affairs, their arguments, and their passionate rages, are clearly in the grip of emotions they themselves can't fully understand or control. How, in juxtaposition to Christopher's incomprehension of the passions that drive other people, is his family situation particularly ironic?
14. On pages 83–84, Christopher explains why he doesn't like yellow and brown, and admits that such decisions are, in part, a way to simplify the world and make choices easier. Why does he need to make the world simpler? Which aspects of life does he find unbearably complicated or stressful?
15. Mark Haddon has said of The Curious Incident, "It's not just a book about disability. Obviously, on some level it is, but on another level . . . it's a book about books, about what you can do with words and what it means to communicate with someone in a book. Here's a character whom if you met him in real life you'd never, ever get inside his head. Yet something magical happens when you write a novel about him. You slip inside his head, and it seems like the most natural thing in the world" [http://www.powells.com/authors/haddon.html ]. Is a large part of the achievement of this novel precisely this --- that Haddon has created a door into a kind of mind his readers would not have access to in real life?

These questions are provided by Reading Group Guides.

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A Sport of Bother by Mark HaddonBook Cover of A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

George Hall is an unobtrusive man. A little distant, perhaps, a little cautious, not at quite at ease with the emotional demands of fatherhood, or manly bonhomie. He does not understand the modern obsession with talking about everything. “The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely.” Some things in life, however, cannot be ignored. At 61, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels and listening to a bit of light jazz. Then his tempestuous daughter, Katie, announces that she is getting re-married, to the deeply inappropriate Ray. Her family is not pleased—as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has “strangler’s hands.” Katie can’t decide if she loves Ray, or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob, and her mother Jean is a bit put out by all the planning and arguing the wedding has occasioned, which get in the way of her quite fulfilling late-life affair with one of her husband’s ex-colleagues. And the tidy and pleasant life Jamie has created crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded nuptials. Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. The way these damaged people fall apart—and come together—as a family is the true subject of Haddon’s disturbing yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely. Click here to read the full book review.


1. What methods does Haddon use to create the tremendous narrative energy of A Spot of Bother? How do chapter lengths, paragraph lengths, and the predominance of dialogue affect the pace of the novel?
2. A Spot of Bother takes the form of a romantic comedy in which a couple must overcome a series of obstacles before they can be married. What internal and external obstacles must Katie and Ray overcome? To what degree do Jamie and Tony and George and Jean have to overcome similar obstacles?
3. What are some of the most humorous moments in A Spot of Bother? What makes them so funny?
4. While he’s playing with Jacob and Ray, George thinks that “if he could find the handle he might be able to open up the secret door and slide down that long chute all the way back to childhood and someone would take care of him and he would be safe” [p. 23]. Why does George feel this desire to return to the safety of childhood?
5. Jamie, Jean, and George (and even, at times, Katie) initially regard Ray with suspicion, mild contempt, and outright dislike. Why do they come to accept and appreciate him over the course of the novel? Does Ray himself change or do their perceptions of him change?
6. In what ways are the Halls a typical family? In what ways are they unusual? How does their family dynamic change over the course of the novel?
7. Why doesn’t George tell anyone after he sees his wife having sex with David? Why doesn’t he confront Jean? What are the consequences of his thinking that he could put the image in the back of his mind where he hopes that after a time it will “fade and lose its power”. [p. 127]?
8. George tells Katie: “I’ve wasted my life.... Your mother doesn’t love me. I spent thirty years doing a job that meant nothing to me. And now...it hurts so much” [p. 138]. Has George wasted his life? Is this feeling the source of his mental unraveling?
9. A Spot of Bother is a deeply comic and at times farcical novel. But it is also a novel about the fear of death. How does George try to manage his fear of dying?
10. Why does Katie fall in love with Ray only after the wedding has been called off? Is theirs likely to be a good marriage? Why do Jamie and Jean similarly realize the true worth of their relationships only after they seem to be lost?
11. Near the end of the novel, Ray says: “Eventually you realize that other people’s problems are other people’s problems” [p. 346]. Is this a wise or a selfish way of looking at things? In what ways is it relevant to what’s happened in the novel itself? What does it reveal about Ray that no one had really noticed before?
12. Jean thinks to herself: “Her life with George was not an exciting life. But wouldn’t life with David go the same way eventually?... Perhaps the secret was to make the best of what you had” [p. 311]. In what ways do all the major characters in the novel come to realize the truth of this view?
13. After the various catastrophes of their wedding day have subsided, Ray tells Katie: “We’re just the little people on top of the cake. Weddings are about families. You and me, we’ve got the rest of our lives together” [p. 302]. Why are weddings about families? What effects does Ray and Katie’s wedding have on the Hall family?
14. At the very end of the book, George says: “it was time to stop all this nonsense” [p. 354]. What does he mean?
15. A Spot of Bother is very specifically about one family, but what larger truths about the human condition does it express?

These questions are provided by the Publisher

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