A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

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A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: One for those who enjoy a beautifully-observed comedy of manners with an ultimately kindly core. The mundane, provincial snobberies of the main characters are their undoing; the doing back up falls to those on whom they previously looked down. Lovely writing, but if you're looking for a message, you may be disappointed.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099506928

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George Hall is settling down into retirement rather nicely until one day he notices a small patch of red skin on his hip. His doctor says it's eczema, but George is convinced it's cancer and he's dying. George's wife Jean is carrying on an affair with David, George's erstwhile colleague. His daughter Katie is having cold feet about marrying Ray, her reliable but non-U boyfriend. His son Jamie is watching his carefully constructed life in London unravel because he won't go public about his homosexuality and bring his boyfriend to the wedding. Unnoticed by his family, George's grip on reality relaxes as he surrenders to the gathering demons of a non-existent cancer.

I got about fifty pages into A Spot Of Bother and felt a spot bothered. Call me an inverted snob, but I just don't don't like people like the Halls. They're horrid little provincial people with horrid little mundane snobberies - not quite Hyacinth Bucket, but close enough for me to lack sympathy with the troubles they brought entirely on themselves. This section of the British middle class always make me feel vaguely embarrassed to be British. How can such horrid little mundane people have such an inflated sense of worth? Aside from George - nervous breakdowns get even my invertedly snobbish sympathy - I really didn't feel an investment of hope in a happy ending for any of these annoying people.

Given another fifty pages, though, I was beginning to change my mind. George's steady descent into psychosis - the panic attacks, the hallucinations, the horror, the terror, the embarrassing moments of lucidity - are the strongest part of this novel, intelligently and painstakingly described. And the observation is perfect. A Spot Of Bother isn't full of belly laughs, but it is full of wry and accurate vignettes and the kind of dialogue that reminds you of Alan Bennett. Half a dozen words in the mouth of one of Haddon's characters paints a picture more devastatingly accurate than two or three pages written by most other authors. It's kinder than Bennett though, and by the end, even I was hoping George would be ok, Jean would get rid of David, Katie would marry Ray and Jamie would snog Tony in front of everyone.

The Halls' only real chance at redemption lies in realising that their snobberies are just that. The most worthwhile people in A Spot Of Bother are those they affect to despise - Ray, David, Tony. These are real, living, breathing people who have a grasp of what life is really all about. And it's only by getting down and dirty with them that the Halls can save themselves.

I finished the book with that glow you get when you read someone with the keenest of eyes, an enviable talent for the mot juste and the ability to make you laugh. I still didn't like the Halls very much but I was glad their various comeuppances were also the beginnings of their rejuvenations. A Spot Of Bother is the kind of affable read that's naughty but not too naughty and kindly in its criticisms. I'm not really sure I'm the better for reading it, or if it told me anything that wasn't blindingly obvious to everyone except said Hyacinth Bucket, or if the plot was actually substantial enough to repay the reading. Nevertheless, Mark Haddon is a man with an affinity for words that I can only dream of possessing. And frankly, that's good enough for me.

You can find out more about Mark Haddon by reading his fascinating blog. The entry on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse almost changed my mind about a book I really dislike.

Alan Bennett's Three Stories looks at pretensions and snobberies in a slightly less genial but probably more funny way, while The Eyrie by Stevie Davies deconstructs close relationships with a similarly poetic and precise prose.

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Buy A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon at Amazon.com.


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