Updated: Jul 23, 2020
“The secret of contentment lay in ignoring many things completely.” - A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
I am in two minds about my latest read. ‘A Spot of Bother’ by Mark Haddon opens the door of the Hall’s family residence, laying bare the trials and tribulations that surface from their small domestic space. Throughout the narrative Haddon employs unexpected twists and turns in every chapter. The viewpoint of the story is passed around like a baton amongst the family members, which consists of a slightly loopy father, a mother with a secret, a hardheaded and stubborn daughter (soon to be wed) and a younger bother navigating romance with extreme caution (and seemingly not an ounce of luck). It all starts with the father, George, discovering a curious abrasion on his hip and coming to the swift conclusion and his own personal diagnosis that it must be cancer and death is most certainly imminent.
This work is a far cry from Haddon’s well-known and much loved novel, “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time”. Originally intended as a children’s book, this was a favourite among young people and adults alike. It still endures to this day and has even been masterfully converted into a play. “The Curious Incident” is both a thrilling and charming novel, placing readers into the vivid and uncomfortable reality of the endearing protagonist, Christopher. Haddon delivers a distinct and wholly unique adventure through the lens of autism, making this both an eye-opening and sincere story.
In comparison, “A Spot of Bother” falls sub par in terms of excitement and plot. It is built on moments of deep contemplation and modestly comedic mishaps, making it rather a slow burner of a novel, lacking in anything truly punchy. The occasional humorous quip picks up the narrative and can draw out the occasional smile. It can be likened to watching a sitcom, arranged into 20-minute episodic spurts.
Interestingly, Haddon incorporates two significant and opposing themes: love & death. As George grapples with the harsh truths of growing old and the impending dark cloud that looms ahead for all of us, the rest of his family each parlay with the struggles of love trying to decipher the difference between infatuation and devotion, and all the niggly bits in between. The usual trap of falling into a dark hole of sorts when considering such topics are either quelled or avoided altogether as the reader is never given enough time to truly dwell on the questions posed. Instead the mood continues to be quickly lifted by one family blunder after another. The world of the Hall’s is messy and unhinged, similar to The Griswold’s but an uncanny, black comedy version.
Having said this, it is not wholly unenjoyable. The novel’s foundation of realism with the occasional dash of shock factor makes it both accessible and amusing. Haddon gently invites us to consider our own family situation, whatever that may be, and perhaps leaves us with the message that despite certain difficulties, good times and happiness can prevail. The reader is not left with a typical happy ending as such, but with a small burning candle of hope. It is a frail flame that could be blown out at any second, quivering and uncertain, but still able to cast a little light on an otherwise dim situation.
The closing chapter ends with a scene that encapsulates ordinary home life, as George and Jean prepare for dinner, both of them choosing to forge on as a united front once again. Their love for each other, although not raw and electrifying, still stands strong, making their union a bittersweet one at most. The reader is left with a sense that the monotony of their everyday routine threatens to return, and one can’t help but wonder as to whether this will last.
The series of strange and farcical events, packaged in a seemingly normal and familiar setting to most, proves to be slightly unnerving at times. I found myself having to laugh at the gruesomeness of certain situations presented so as to avoid feeling completely queasy. Safe to say, I did avoid scissors for about two days after finishing the book (I will not spoil this reference if you so choose to dive in).
My review may be considered a pessimistic one, but I must stress this is still a solid read, and one you don’t necessarily have to concentrate on too intently if you just fancied a light read. That being said, I raise a glass to Haddon’s expert composition and wit. Definitely a book to venture into if you want something unique, just make sure you have the stomach for it.
Where to read: The garden during early hours of the morning
Drink to accompany: A hot cup of builder’s tea
Mood to be in: Nonchalant
Bye for now,
P.S: If you have read this book I would love to know your thoughts! Did you really enjoy it? Leave a comment down below.