The Red House by Mark Haddon Doubleday Soon after crossing paths at their mother's funeral, Angela and her brother Richard are about to spend more time together than they have for 15 years. British author Mark Haddon, whose award-winning 2003 best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, about a boy with Asperger's, received lavish praise, is back with another acutely felt tale. And again he's tackling family - 'that slippery word, a star to every wandering bark, and everyone sailing under a different sky'. Angela and Dominic are taking their loveless marriage and their children - teenagers Alex and Daisy and eight-year-old Benji - to the countryside for a holiday, courtesy of wealthy doctor Richard. He will be there too, with new trophy wife Louisa and teenage stepdaughter Melissa. And watching over them is Karen, Angela and Dominic's stillborn child, who would have turned 18 in that week. Angela dreads the countryside, where there will be 'no distraction from the dirty messed-up workings of the heart'. And she's right: the rented farmhouse in Herefordshire, on the Welsh border, provides ideal conditions for bringing it all to the surface - the simmering resentments, the guilt, the anxiety. The beautiful and unforgiving landscape and the confines of the holiday somehow exaggerate the familiar mechanics of this family, with its petulant teens and troubled adults. And as the story jumps between viewpoints there is plenty of insight into all eight of them - it's almost as if you are wandering through the rooms and grounds of the old house, overhearing private conversations or tuning in to innermost thoughts. Over seven days the eight try to heal old wounds and somehow find the freedom to say things that have gone unsaid. And this is Haddon's real skill - a keen observer of the human condition, he exposes their frailties and insecurities, their hopes and desires. From the fleeting friendship of Daisy, who's found God, and Melissa, the bully; to the pompous sponsor of the holiday, Richard, desperate to win everyone over. Alex, sporty and capable, watching out for his siblings and mum, but with fantasies and anxieties enough of his own. Even little Benji, at such a tender age, has plenty to worry about - life, death, mum, dad. Then there are the awkward exchanges between Richard and Angela, keen to unburden after the death of their alcoholic mother. Now middle-aged, the siblings hardly know each other. They dredge up their difficult childhood and although they can't agree on the details, the feelings are still raw. Haddon nurtures all of his characters, skilfully laying out their vulnerabilities and desires with the empathy he has become known for. And as their already fragile bonds threaten to come unstuck, it becomes clear that, ultimately, all any of them want is to be accepted by the others - even if they don't realise it.