A Spot of Bother
Vintage, 2007 edition
Cover design & art by Marc Boutavant (illustration) & Tim Marrs (illustrated type).
Mark Haddon already convinced me of his ability to empathize with his main characters when I had started reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”, where the author manages to look through the eyes of a 15 year-old boy with autism in such a way, it was obvious that he understood his character completely.
In “A Spot of Bother”, which centers around a chaotic family, Haddon continues on this level of solid character building.
George has a lot on his plate. He has just retired, his daughter Katie is getting married to someone other than the father of her child, his wife Judy has been cheating on him (which he doesn't know) and is thinking about leaving… and his son Jamie is struggling with being an out in the open and committed gay man.
Oh, and George is convinced he’s got cancer. It’s not cancer. But try telling that to George as he’s silently but definitely losing his mind.
It is hard to say whether this book has superseded Haddon’s debut fiction novel. If anything, it’s just incredibly different, full of dark humor – without letting go of that brilliant empathy. This is a book about everyday people screwing up, being selfish, going mad – and learning from it all and each other. It is definitely an honest look into the despair, frustration and love that involves being part of family life; the reader is drawn in. These characters will at times bore you or anger you. They will freak you out so much, you won’t look at scissors the same way anymore.
All the same, you will rejoice for them, hope for them.
As literature in itself, this novel also offers a different view into the world of insanity. It is far from the style of, say, renowned depression literature by J.D. Salinger or Sylvia Plath. Whereas “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Bell Jar” (respectively) both have an almost quiet introverted feel to it, George’s more acute fear and panic is violently bursting out, at times to a shocking level. To me, this bluntness has been an interesting experience.
Though a book such as this one, revolving so strongly around family dysfunction, isn’t usually the kind of book I enjoy reading, I have to admit this wasn’t just your average story of family or of dysfunction. It provoked me in some way and brought me back to basics. Your family, you cannot choose. But you can, in many cases, choose how you get on. Not everyone has the luxury of even having family or having any relationship with them. So don’t waste yours over something that is ultimately rather selfish, or petty.
Thanks Mr. Haddon. That’s always a good lesson to learn.
March 23rd 2008
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