Haddon, Mark. A Spot of Bother.

NY: Doubleday, 2006.

I was very impressed with Haddon’s first novel, the award-winning Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This one is about as different as it’s possible to be, and it’s also pretty impressive. George Hall is in his sixties, a retired builder of playground equipment, who has always been a little off-center in his method of dealing with life. Mostly, he tries to ignore things that make him uncomfortable — even more than your typical Englishman. Things like potential jetliner crashes and the possibility of dying of cancer.

He’s coping with retirement in part by learning to lay brick and building a small art studio at the bottom of his garden. Meanwhile, his wife, Jean, has been coping with George by having an affair with one of his ex-colleagues. It isn’t that George doesn’t care, exactly, but he doesn’t often show it and David simply makes her feel good. And David kind of wants Jean to leave George. Meanwhile, their daughter, Katie, who is really hard work, and who has a child by a guy who walked out on her, is contemplating marriage with Ray, who has a nice house and makes good money, even though he’s large and hyper-masculine and not as intelligent as she is. But Ray brims with natural competence and he’s really, really good with Jacob, and he loves her. It doesn’t matter that her family seems uneasy, almost a little afraid of Ray. Meanwhile, Jacob, being about three and semi-hyperactive, is fixated on Bob the Builder and Power Rangers, and on asking whether Grandpa is dying. (No, dear, Grandpa is just having a breakdown.) Meanwhile, Katie’s younger brother, Jamie, who is an estate agent and gay (Katie taught him everything he knows about self-defense), has just broken up with Tony, who has finally had it with Jamie’s inability to stop being single and in control of absolutely everything in order to love someone else. Having laid out these separate lives for the reader’s perusal, Haddon then stands back and allows them all to gradually merge. George sees something he wasn’t meant to see and decides to engage in do-it-yourself cancer surgery. Jamie finds himself actually bonding with Ray. Ray wonders whether, for her own good, Katie ought actually to be marrying him. Jean has no idea what’s going on but she’s making sure her daughter’s second nuptials come off properly and on schedule. And it all comes together in one of the most dramatically entertaining weddings you’re likely to see. Why hasn’t this delightful novel been made into a film?

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Published in: on 10 April 2011 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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