51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2007
The central character of 'A Spot Of Bother' is George Hall, a 57-year-old man from Peterborough, recently retired and a touch overwhelmed by his newly discovered wealth of free time. Other people we meet and follow are George's wife Jean, who is having an affair with one of George's ex-co-workers; their son Jamie, who is having relationship problems of his own; and their daughter Katie who is about to get married to Ray, a man none of the family are sure about and who Katie does not appear to be madly in love with. The book's narrative follows one character at a time, allowing the reader to see events from everyone's point of view.
Plot-wise, the book it pretty simple - Katie and Ray are to get married at George and Jean's home, and everything must be organised - Jamie has to patch things up with his boyfriend, Katie has to decide whether she really wants to get married ... and George catches Jean with her lover, fears he is dying of cancer and thus begins to go mad.
Haddon's genius is to occupy the minds of the different characters in an entirely believable (and readable) manner, from the doubts of Katie's impending marriage to Jamie's love for his partner to the madness of King George, the head of the family. It's a difficult book to put down once begun, and although a light read on some levels nonetheless satisfying - the stand-out sections being those eloquent yet terrifying descriptions of George's descent into madness.
121 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2007
Mark Haddon, damn him, has written a second novel which is better than the first. It isn't LIKE the first one, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, so ignore the reviewers below who seem to think that like a brand name, an author's name should guarantee an identical experience every time. This time Haddon approaches a superficially ordinary family, perhaps like yours or mine, and goes into the little crises and difficulties which make family life so hard to bear. Dad may be an alcoholic, may be a hypochondriac, may be going mad.... you make your own decision as you read his narrative of the family going through weddings, arrivals and departures, illnesses and just day to day coping. But the style is distinctively, freshly, hilariously Haddon and very recognisable as the work of the same hand.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2006
As one of many readers who admired The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time I was keen to read this book yet aprehensive that it would disappoint. Thankfully it did not and although the book seems initially to be completely different in theme and style both books share the authenticity of their characters, the realism of their domestic setting and the sympathetic yet humorous treatment of a medical condition, in this case depression. George Hall is politely going mad whilst trying not to inconvenience his family. His wife Jean has embarked on a reasonably satisfying affair with his old work colleague David, daughter Katie is about to marry unsuitable husband number two, Ray and they are all trying to deal sensitively with son Jamie who is having commitment issues with his long term boyfriend Tony. All this inevitably comes to a head on the day of the ill-fated wedding. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking book with George showing quiet heroism whilst coping with a very well mannered bout of mental illness. The plot is a little contrived, perhaps even slapstick at times yet despite this A Spot of Bother is ultimately very funny and confronts real issues and situations with which we can all empathise.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The main positive feature of A Spot of Bother is that the author writes very well. The narrative is always written in an interesting way with an edge of wit. It is just as well as I may have had difficulty getting past page 10 if the writing had not been of this high standard. However, frankly I think his skills are wasted on this one.
If I had to put my finger on the problem, I would say that the issue is that none of the characters are very likeable and, indeed, the principal players are, in the main, downright dislikeable. The plot, which is centred around the personal and painful mental disintegration of George is not really very appealing and is probably something which most readers, in the abstract, would not choose to read about. We also have George's wife, Jean, in the midst of a tawdry affair, their daughter Kate, being totally indecisive about whether she wants to get remarried and the tangled love life of Jamie, the gay son - no spoilers here as all this can be gleaned from the back cover! It is hard to empathise with any of these and generally one feels that one would like to grab each of them by the shoulders and shout 'Get Yourself Together'!
Because of the style of writing this is not a difficult book to read, and by the wedding towards the end, I thought the bizarre occurrences were actually quite interesting. However, this was probably a reaction to the rest of the book, which was the opposite to a page turner. The main thing which kept me going was that I do like to finish books I start and the chapters are quite short in the main.
Mark Haddon is an author of great promise, and I look forward to his future offerings, but if you do not get round to reading this one, you will not have missed very much in my opinion. With The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, he came up with an off beat plot which he exploited to the full but here he has produced a story which, whilst well written, I personally found mundane, not very appealing and generally rather depressing.
53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2006
This is a startling book which leaves a strong aftertaste. And that's surprising really, because there is nothing new or out of the ordinary here.
The power of the novel comes from the fact that everyone reading it will surely be able to identify some aspect of their own behaviour or that of someone they know or have known. The book consists of 140 odd very short chapters and this works well, actually driving you on to read "just one more." To my surprise, I've just finished this in less than two days but it really is that compelling.
The style is very easy and it flows well. Each chapter views things from the standpoint of one of the main characters and there is some overlap between the narration of events, so that the reader can determine the subtle differences in the way the same words or actions appear to different individuals.
Most stunning of all is the author's ability to put himself inside the thoughts of some very different characters of widely diverse ages and backgrounds. The understanding shown of the effects of retirement and late middle age, and the physical / mental damage caused by depressive illness is a triumph of observation and empathy.
None of this makes the book sound much fun but it is. It is simultaneously sad , uplifting and very, very funny. Overall, it is that rare beast, a literary novel which is also a page - turner. Order it now - you'll want to have the hardback to keep!
49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2007
Hillarious! Couldn't put it down. I don't give it five stars, because this book is LOADED with schmaltz, but it was the funniest thing I have read in ages. Even to the point of laughing out loud, to my wife's annoyance. I enjoyed it as much as Haddon's more famous "The Curious Incident ..."
The four members of his family are outwardly normal, leading conventional lives, but their personal crises are all brought together in a fast-paced farce. Haddon is very good at drawing out his characters. You are bound recognise aspects of them in yourself or others around you. Pain, swearing, sexual escapades and a surprising yet believable sequence of events are interspersed with the jokes right from the off. This is a much more sophisticated read than a summary of the plot can convey.
The chapters dealing with George's (the father) crises were to my (perhaps twisted) mind the funniest. For me the humour came from seeing how his tortured logic and thinking processes produced behaviour which seemed normal to him, but outrageous to those around him.
George fears that he is suffering from either a nervous breakdown or from depression. In fact, although his behaviour is shocking, given the devastating circumstances George must confront, the reader feels some empathy for his position, even respect for his responses.
It will have you turning the pages quickly and not wanting to be disturbed till you finish, and then that feeling you get at the end of a good book, satisfaction tempered with disappointment that there is no more to be had.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 16 November 2007
This book has been criticized by some reviewers because its characters are too ordinary. This is the very quality that makes the book such a delight for me. The book exposes a family dealing with aging and retirement, a homosexual son, marriage and relationship difficulties and the opinions of the world around them. The dilemmas faced by these ordinary characters are familiar to us all, but Haddon's humorous and insightful treatment of them can be quite thought-provoking.
The book is riotously funny. Haddon's metaphors and similes alone will have you in stitches and dying to try them out yourself to show what a witty conversationalist you are. Let me give you an example:
"George could do the bluff repartee about cars and sport if pressed. But it was like being a sheep in the nativity play".
A thoroughly enjoyable read. You will finish it in a few nights.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2010
Halfway through - should I carry on? Three stars.
High energy intro. References drawn from the rainbow of human emotion and happening. Switching, constantly switching. Never resting. Surely the energy that flows through the first 200 pages cannot be continued. It's kind of perversely invigorating. But I'm restless.
Why am I hating this book? Is it because these dysfunctional middle-England go-nowhere moaners are taking over my life? Making it even more depressing? Do I really need to see into the mind of a Daily Mail reader? I'm halfway through. Should I continue? Worst still, I appear to be turning into "disgruntled" from Tunbridge Wells.
Positively, I know Mark can write brilliantly, he's shown that skill to great effect pages 1 to 200. Yes, I'll continue. Because I feel uncomfortable - the characters make me feel uncomfortable. I don't hope for their salvation - I'm looking forward to their miserable decline. I hope the second half of the book meets my expectations and that they all die - horribly - and go away. If they don't, I'll be very, very disappointed.
Book finished - And I wanted it to carry on! Five stars.
Following up from the above halfway-through review I want to give the book, and especially author Mark Haddon an honestly deserved five stars.
Yes, I still hate the central characters but don't, any longer, want them to die a horrible death. I just want them to go away, but amusingly they won't.
After finishing the book I went on the usual Saturday shopping trip. In amongst the crowds I spotted Georges, Jeans, Jamies and Katies. And I just couldn't help wondering, if not inventing, their marital and mental states. It was great fun, as opposed to the shopping itself which wasn't.
Full power to Mark who retained exceptional energy in the book, from start to finish. The energy is in the writing and superb characterisation, not, I hasten to add, in the characters themselves who are largley uncommunicative and therefore pretty much dysfunctional. A sublime contrast.
It's a great laugh and a great read which pumps up the volume with a seamlessly fluid, modern, accessible yet intelligent writing style.
Apologies for my initial, conservative (middle England?) three stars. Five stars now and nothing less!
61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2007
A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon, is a great summer read - characters you grow to care about that themselves grow in the course of the novel, a plot where something -- often funny -- happens, and a feel-good ending where every one gets what they deserve. The Evening Standard describes it as "A novel of minor incidents which tackles major problems" -- an excellent capsule description.
George's daughter Katie, always difficult, arrives with Ray to announce they are getting married. None of the family likes Ray; glumly, they start planning the wedding.
George, fifty-seven and comfortably retired, discovers a strange lesion and is quietly, causing as little trouble as possible, going mad. He's always been a responsible, conservative reliable man. A little dull, a little remote from wife and children, George has always behaved properly. Now he's terrified, suffering panic attacks and paranoia.
The rest of the family is too busy to notice. His wife is having an affair - she's found Love and Romance and someone that understands her. Jamie, his gay son, has broken up with Tony, his lover, and suspects Tony's complaints might be genuine. Maybe Tony was right to walk out. Katie, herself, is not sure whether she's marrying Ray because she loves him or because he has money, a house and manages her son beautifully. He makes life so much easier, but is this a reason to marry the man?
Much as they justify themselves, each member of the family suspects they may be a tad selfish, a bit self-centered. George's madness and the proposed wedding serve as catalysts.
This is the kind of novel women generally write - one about relationships, and the full range of them: lovers, friends, siblings, parents and children. It's more detached than the usual women's fiction, and much funnier. Haddon uses multiple points of view; viewing the action from the perspective of each member of the family.This allows the reader to see that, despite appearances, they want to be better than they are and they work at it.
Initially unsympathetic characters become very likable and the satisfying, realistic and very funny ending grows out of the growth of the major characters.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2007
One family, 4 intertwining stories: mother Jean is having an affair with a former colleague of her husband George; George has discovered a lesion on his hip and is convinced it is cancer despite the fact that the doctor says it is eczema; grown-up daughter Katie is a divorced mother of a 3-year old and is getting married to Ray but is having last-minute hesitations; and finally grown-up son Jamie has a relationship with Tony but is cocking that up too. And all this during the time that everybody is preparing for Katie's wedding that will take place at her parents' house. George is steadily losing his mind and the whole family tries to help the other family members to cope with whatever is happening to them.
All this leads to hilarious situations, but that's about it. After "The curious incident of the dog in the night-time" (a book about an autistic boy that gives a wonderful insight into the minds of autistic people), I had very high expectations of the new book of Mark Haddon, but this book is simply funny and has none of the moving and compassionate aspects of his previous book. So yes, it was fun to read but it still left me slightly disappointed.