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January 6, 2007

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

It was at page 133 that Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother finally cast its spell upon me; I marked the page. This is the second book by the potentially one-hit-wonderish author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time, and this time he’s got an altogether different trick up his sleeve. Each chapter in this book is written from the point of view of each member of the Hall family: George is having a nervous breakdown, Jean is sleeping with George’s former coworker, Jamie is unwilling to commit to his boyfriend, and horrible Katie is about to marry a man everybody else hates. Initially, I really didn’t care about any of them and I considered whether I was actually willing to invest a whole 354 pages in such nasty souls. But then on the 133rd page, suddenly these characters began to engage with one another and the story had me in its grip.

133 pages sounds like a long time to wait, but this is a quick read and the chapters fly by. The action is unrelenting once it finally begins, culminating in a massive blow-out that is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. Haddon, who wrote from the point of view of a boy with Asbergers in his first novel, gets points for his portrayal of George Hall’s depression, and also for the reaction of George’s wife who just can’t understand what is wrong with him. Humour abounds through this book, even in the darkest bits. The ending was everything I wanted it to be. This story is a true-to-life portrait of family, showing the ways (unintentional and otherwise) in which we drive each other mad.

And so I’d recommend this book, but I’ve got one reservation: I sort of think it should have been a movie. It was not just the sparseness of Haddon’s prose, but rather the fact that this book didn’t seem to be about language at all. Plot plot plot, which is important and of course I was dying to get to the end, but there was nothing much to savour along the journey. For some people, I think, this isn’t a problem. And it’s not particularly a problem for me either. I certainly don’t subsist on “demanding” books, but I mention in light this novel’s nomination for the 2006 Costa Book Awards and the fact that the shortlist was cited for froth and populism. In the case of this book, I do understand. A Spot of Bother is a good enough novel after all, but there was nothing extraordinary about it. If weren’t for that curious incident awhile back, I don’t know if anyone would have taken much notice of it.

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