After the disheartening grief that I received after posting about Only Revolutions, I’ve decided to play it safe. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon is the complete opposite of OR. It is a straightforward, traditional narrative. It is linear. It is not written in free verse. You read the book from left to write on successive pages. It was not challenging in any noteworthy ways.
Haddon wrote the quirky best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which I had also read. I knew, more or less, what to expect with this book. It seemed the perfect book for post-Only Revolutions reading. It was. More or less.
The cover suggest the “Three Weddings and a Funeral”-style hijinks that ensue within the pages (although there is no clear role for Hugh Grant). George Hall is the center of the story. He was always a reliable if unexceptional man. He paid his taxes, went to church. He hardly seems to deserve his wife’s affair, his gay son’s snobbery, his daughter’s seemingly poor choice in men, or his slow descent into dementia. The titular spot is an eczema blemish that appears on his hip. George becomes convinced that the spot is the first sign of cancer and that his days are numbered. He begins to behave oddly, nearly killing himself in an attempt to remove the “cancer.” Meanwhile, the family drama plays out around him as George becomes adrift in dementia.
This book was also short-listed for the Literary Review Bad Sex Award. The offending passage involved something about smelling Brass Firedogs. Whatever those are. To his credit, Haddon doesn’t change his British idioms to be intelligible by those of us on this side of the Atlantic. For example, it took me some time to figure out that a character was not using a literal “cake slice” to clean up some vomit. Apparently, a cake slice is a kitchen sponge in England. Or else it is a Brass Firedog-style nonsensical device that I did not follow.
Bad sex aside, the book was an enjoyable read. It lacks the freshness of Curious Incident, but how many truly unique narrators can you have in a career. Haddon has a crisp writing style that makes what he does seem effortless, so you are blindsided when a truly dazzling phrase comes along. If you enjoyed Curious Incident, be sure to check it out. Bottom line: a good book to bring to the beach with you if you’re headed to warmer climes this winter.