Mark Haddon’s first novel,
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), was a
phenomenonal success, due in no small part to its originality. He was
able to speak convincingly in the voice of an autistic teenager. In his
second novel, A Spot of Bother,
Haddon brings the same sort of understanding, humor, and heart to a
more conventional domestic story.
George Hall, the husband and father, is the main character, with his family members in major supporting roles. George is retired and lives with his wife, Jean, in Peterborough, an hour north of London. He is a bit stodgy and thinks talking is overrated. He’s recently discovered a lesion on his hip that he’s convinced is cancer even though the doctor diagnoses it as eczema. He’s also discovered that Jean is having an affair with a former coworker of his — and he keeps quiet about it.
Jean isn’t a bad woman; she just craves more after 40 years with close-mouthed George. Hot-tempered daughter Katie is planning to marry a man George and Jean don’t care for. Katie starts to question whether she really loves him. Gay son Jamie alienates his lover by not wanting to invite him to the wedding.
His troubles and those of his family members depress George and push him toward madness. The vivid scenes before Haddon works it all out include one where George literally takes medical matters into his own hands and another where he punches Jean’s lover at Katie’s wedding.
A Spot of Bother is a witty, astute examination of domestic life. Haddon shows us that even when it seems that everything is falling apart, family members can grow into more mature people with a good chance of reconciliation.
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