A Spot of Bother

I enjoyed listening to Mark Haddon’s novel A Spot of Bother; I don’t think it’s quite as good as his first novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, but it’s a good book nonetheless. The charm and interest of the first novel was in the narrative voice; the main character is autistic, and it was fascinating and sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking to see the world from his perspective. The tension between the way the narrator views the world and the way the reader can see the limits of his point of view keeps readers hooked.

A Spot of Bother is more traditional in its theme and style than the first one. It’s about a family that is falling apart, beginning with the father, George, who finds an ominous-looking spot on his hip and is convinced it is cancer. When he visits the doctor and hears it is excema, he does not believe it. He is convinced he is dying and falls into a depression that wreaks havoc on himself and his family. All the other members of his family are suffering too: his wife is having an affair and can’t decide what to do about it; his son, Jamie, is in danger of losing his lover; and his daughter, Katie, can’t decide if she wants to marry Ray, the man no one else in the family likes.

If all that sounds serious and heavy, it’s not — Haddon tells the story in a light, comic way. While you feel bad for George, you can’t help but laugh at his crazy leaps of logic and his dry sense of humor, and the interaction amongst all the characters reveals just how amusing family conflict can be — seen from the outside, of course.

The novel has a fairly traditional comedic structure: it’s about life falling apart and getting put back together again, and its plot revolves around weddings and marriages: will Katie and Ray get married? Will George and Jean stay together? Tragedy threatens — especially in the way George confronts the prospect of his inevitable death — but it never looms very large. It’s not terribly hard to figure out how the plot will resolve itself or what the novel’s climax will involve (even for me, who can never figure out plots), but the pleasure of this book is not in its plot twists, but in the dialogue and the records of the characters’ thoughts. The point of view shifts back and forth amongst the members of the family, revealing exactly what each person thinks of the other, a technique that lends itself well to comedy — no one knows exactly what the other characters know or what they think about everyone else, and the effort to guess or discover this truth leads to some amusing mistakes. It’s a story about the difficulty — and the urgency — of discovering the truth about the people one lives with and loves.

I can very easily see how this novel could be turned into a movie — in fact, if it’s not turned into a movie, I’ll be surprised. I feel ambivalently about this; on the one hand, it’s a movie I’d almost certainly enjoy, provided it were decently well-made. On the other hand, this characteristic reveals a certain predictability and formula-following that I usually shy away from. But I don’t want to look down my nose at an entertaining story that’s well told, so I won’t … instead I’ll recommend this book for a time when you need a laugh and some high-quality entertainment.

12 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

12 responses to “A Spot of Bother

  1. I think this sounds very fun even if it is somewhat formulaic. I just came across his other one when I was looking for a different book (which I didn’t manage to find) and considered pulling it, but I’ve left it there for the time being. Do you ever wonder if sometimes authors write with the idea of a film in mind? Or maybe the way some stories are told just lend themselves more to a movie version.

  2. hepzibah

    I have never read The Curious Incident…though I have always wanted to. And right now this book looks like the best thing for me. I need something light and funny….Which would you recommend first?

  3. I thought A Spot of Bother was excellent, though in a different vein from The Curious Incident. I liked how the different voices were so clear, and of course it’s very funny. I would say to hepzibah, read this one first!

  4. verbivore

    I read A Curious Incident just a few weeks ago and definitely enjoyed Haddon’s style. He makes it seem like writing is easy, if that makes sense. I will be interested to see what I think of this book as well.

  5. You’ve just convinced me to read this book when I am the only person in the western hemisphere who disliked Curious Dog. But you’ve given this such a lovely review I might pick it up over vacation to read…

  6. I’ve not read anything by Haddon. But I will keep this book in mind when next I want something entertaining, funny, and not too taxing.

  7. I really liked Curious Incident but somehow this book was never much on my radar. It does sound good though so it goes on that long TBR list!

  8. Danielle — I suspect authors do sometimes write with a movie in mind, but I don’t think Haddon is (although what do I know, really?). In this case, I think it’s more that Haddon has chosen to write a story with a fairly traditional structure, one that a lot of movies follow as well.

    Hepzibah — definitely start with A Spot of Bother if you want something light — the other one is excellent, but a little darker.

    Charlotte — that’s it, about the voices. Each character is very well done, distinct and lively.

    Verbivore — yes, he DOES make it seem easy, and yet I strongly suspect it’s not! I wouldn’t want to belittle the talent it takes to tell a good story.

    Courtney — I hope you like it if you do decide to read it! The two are quite different that disliking one wouldn’t necessarily mean disliking the other (although I suppose it depends on your reason for disliking it).

    Stefanie — I think it’s a good one to keep in mind — it could be just the thing at the right moment. I suspect you’d like it.

    Iliana — I hope you enjoy it too, when you get to it!

  9. I loved ‘A Spot of Bother’. It was definitely my book of 2006. And if Ray’s are available on mail-order, please can I have one for Christmas.

  10. I haven’t read any Haddon, having resisted for years, for some reason. Perhaps I should break down that resistance, and some Xmas money should be spent on him (if I don’t blow it all on books from Persephone)?

  11. Ann — Ray did turn out to be quite appealing, didn’t he?

    Emily — I have this feeling you’d like him (I hope I’m not wrong …) — he’s quite funny in a way I think you’d appreciate.

  12. I felt the same way about the two books. ‘The Curious Incident…’ was amazingly well done. I think that Haddon shows the same ability to make his characters so believable despite the oddity of their situations in ‘Spot of Bother’, but he had a really tough act to follow.

    I definitely agree with you and Ann that Ray is just the greatest guy. It was gratifying to see him get his due by the book’s end.

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