A book review – Mark Haddon’s “A Spot of Bother”

September 16, 2012 2:52 pm

Before I launch into “A spot of bother”, I think it would be useful to provide the blurb:

At fifty-seven, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels, listening to a bit of light jazz. Then Katie, his unpredictable daughter, announces that she is getting remarried, to Ray. Her family is not pleased – as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has ‘strangler’s hands’. Katie can’t decide if she loves Ray, or loves the way he cared for her son Jacob, and her mother Jean is a bit put by the way the wedding planning gets in the way of her affair with one of her husband’s former colleagues. And the tidy, pleasant life Jamie has created crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded nuptials. 

Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind

Well I can safely start by saying that these sorts of books are not usually my thing, but having almost finished it I feel like I want to write about it. I like sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and an element of discovery. This book just seemed like a story about chaos unfolding within a family. However, I felt that it was a journey of discovery in its own right.

The relationship between George, his wife Jean and her lover David, provides an insight into the relationships of the elderly that I haven’t had before. The self reflectiveness of Katie (George’s daughter), her concern for her son, Jacob and the relationship with soon-to-be-husband, Ray, is also interesting. But what I love most is how there are character clashes. For example George as a middle class retired man, and Ray as a “working” class man from up north, a typical “bloke” who is big and all. One of my favourite passages in expressing their relationship is:

“[…]Ray had run his finger along the rack of CDs above the television and said, ‘So you’re a jazz fan, Mr Hall [meaning George]‘, and George had felt as if Ray unearthed a stack of pornographic magazines.”

I found it an amusing read, giving me a chuckle here and there, but as it progressed the mood slowly got darker. I felt a genuine pity for George in particular, when he does seemingly begin losing his mind.

But the most interesting journey of discovery when it comes to relationships is that of Jamie (George’s son) and his homosexuality. How the relationship plays out between himself and his lover, Tony, is intriguing because we always assign roles and stereotypes to males and females in relationships. But in a homosexual relationship, there is an element of mystery, especially if you had not experienced them yourself. I know that the homosexual community have romantic, sexual and even platonic relationships, just like the heterosexual community, but I never really had a close friend who was gay who would tell me about what it was like. I never really talked about it in detail to anyone, and I don’t think it was taboo for me, it was just that I, as a curious person, never had the opportunity.

Mark Haddon, Author

This book ended up taking me by surprise with its own little journey of discovery, it was something that I thought would be mediocre for me but it turned out to be an excellent read and I can almost imagine it being played out like a film. The structure of the chapters, which simply represent scenes, really helps in achieving this and makes it much more enjoyable. But if you do plan to read chapter by chapter, then that does not really work, as some “scenes” are quite short (from less than a page to about three to four pages). The simple descriptions of what the characters do as they think, whether they put the kettle on or make some toast, is a really nice and subtle detail, not too overdone. I think I may have learned a thing or two about writing from reading this particular one. I definitely recommend it.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go back and finish it off!

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