Christmas comes early for two families who are forced to share a getaway cottage in Wales when siblings Richard and Angela decide to mend fences after years apart. Maybe your family reunions haven’t been as exciting as this one, or regretfully, they have, because these two families are representative of the many dysfunctional families in our western society.
Firstly we have Richard, a well-to-do surgeon, his second wife, Louisa, and her 16-year-od daughter, Melissa. To complete this ménage a deux families, there is Richard’s sister, Angela, her husband, Dominic, and their three children, Alex 17, Daisy 16, and Benjy, 8. The Red House becomes a hotbed of unresolved issues for every family member as each of these issues bubbles to the surface within its close confines.
The adult siblings have their own separate problems as well as a shared one. Angela has never forgiven Richard for leaving her to deal with their mother’s alcoholism and eventual death. She is haunted by another death – her stillborn daughter, Karen, who would have turned 18 during their holiday. Richard is being threatened with a lawsuit after surgery went wrong for “the Sharne girl”. One feels he is more concerned for his own welfare than that of his unfortunate patient. When he finds out that his wife has had many short-lived affairs prior to their marriage, it takes a great deal of self will to accept her as she is.
Louisa feels that she is of a lower class than her newly acquired relations, and is desperately afraid that her affairs will be exposed and they will despise her. Little does she know that her brother-in-law, an improvident father, is running away from Amy, his very needy lover. The technology of the mobile phone eventually exposes his dalliance. Ironically many of the characters are forever bemoaning the fact that mobile coverage is not easily accessible in this mountainous terrain.
Melissa could quite correctly be described as a “bitch” in the modern parlance. She has been thrust into this family situation against her will, and shows no empathy for a “friend” whom she has exposed in a compromising situation UNTIL it appears that the law may become involved. Initially spurning the advances of the testosterone fuelled Alex, she has a momentary lapse, which she savagely regrets. Alex is also attracted to the 40-something Louisa, which puts more cats among the pigeons when Richard becomes aware of the fact.
Daisy has found religion, but this is at odds with her blossoming awareness that she is more attracted to women than men. Poor old Melissa has two members of this weird and unwanted family lusting after her.
And then there is poor little Benjy. His child’s mind misinterprets so much of what is going on around him and causes him more angst than is usual for him, and yet, he appears to have more sense than any of his elders.
The author takes us right inside the minds of each of these characters, sometimes to the point of not knowing who is thinking what at which time. This is a little difficult to become accustomed to initially, but after a couple of chapters, my mind got into the swing of things and I found it difficult to turn out the bedside lamp. I was particularly taken with the way the author related everyday experiences as in the description of some of the contents of a rental holiday property - “a Scrabble set and a pack of fifty-one playing cards”. Familiar?