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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
on 9 June 2007
As someone who suffers from mental illness myself I can't speak highly enough of this book. Touching and yet in places so funny I laughed 'til I cried. If you know someone suffering from depression and feel like you just don't get it, then please give it a go as it offers a real insight into what it's like.
on 2 July 2007
Laugh out loud funny, which surprised me considering the serious and dark issues lurking in the cupboards of middle England that it explores. This book had me hooked. I sniggered my way through it and lost two days of my hols. A masterclass in characterisation. Easily identifiable to anyone like me: daughter and sons of middle England, 30somethings, wedding-feebled familes, emotionally repressed / squabbling parents approaching retirement. My mum also thought it was written from her perspective which demonstrates the writing quality and appeal to many people. Thought the daughter was more 2D than the other characters, but this is a minor moan, aside from this totally brilliant. Can't wait for his next book.
on 19 March 2016
I did enjoy this novel, and has been stated in other reviews the writing was lucid and moved the story on well, and the characters were well described. The humour was for me the best part of the book, it really was out loud laughter. However, I did find the plot a little silly, it seemed to have the antics at time as similar to a Whitehall Farce, updated to include the gay aspect of the story. Mark Haddon manages to stretch out a story to over 500 pages, yet he never became boring just a bit predictable with all the various scenarios, but certainly all the characters played their part in the on-going story. Definitely 4*, but there was a great deal of scope that needed to be included in the novel to make it 5*.