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"A Spot of Bother" by Mark Haddon

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Mark Haddon made a big splash with his debut novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" about an autistic boy in England that tries to solve the murder of his neighbor's dog. This time around Haddon goes for a more mainstream story, though the characters could hardly be considered normal.

Here is a description of the plot from a review at Publishers Weekly that I have chopped up to get rid of the more opinionated parts:

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Sixty-one year old recent retiree George Hall, convinced that his eczema is cancer, goes into a tailspin dealing with the everyday British domestic life. George, 61, is clearly channeling a host of other worries into the discoloration on his hip (the "spot of bother"): daughter Katie, who has a toddler, Jacob, from her disastrous first-marriage to the horrid Graham, is about to marry the equally unlikable Ray; inattentive wife Jean is having an affair - with George's former co-worker, David Symmonds; and son Jamie doesn't think George is OK with Jamie's being queer. Haddon gets into their heads ... from Jean's waffling about her affair to Katie's being overwhelmed (by Jacob, and by her impending marriage) and Jamie's takes on men (and boyfriend Tony in particular, who wants to come to the wedding). Mild-mannered George, meanwhile, despairing over his health, slinks into a depression; his major coping strategies involve hiding behind furniture on all fours and lowing like a cow.

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This book seems to be billed as a comedy mostly. "Laugh out loud" is a phrase used in a few of the write-ups about it. However, I think that is more in line with what the British call comedy. Not to say that the book doesn't have parts in it that someone not living in British society would find funny. But I saw it more as a declining family story, with injected humor to make the book whole, not just depressing. Though no less entertaining.

No matter how far-fetched some of the events seem to be, or the amount of things that are going wrong all at the same time, the characters came across as believable to me. What helped with the amount of depth each had, and the fact that they do things that make you not want to like them at times. Or at least the four main characters. Each chapter alternates from the four's (third person) perspective. It gives the reader plenty of time to get into each of their heads and see what they are thinking and wanting to do. And even with the vast amount of craziness going on, that character depth helped to make them more understandable and had me feeling that no one was doing anything too ridiculous or totally out of character, even though things did seem outrageous at times.

A couple of parts, dealing with doctors, I found a bit hard to digest. Certainly the health care business is different in Britain, but drugs seemed to be given very freely in this book, without testing or further examination. And the fact that the doctor didn't take the time to thoroughly stress to George that the eczema was indeed not cancer. It seemed to be done that way to perpetuate the whole situation. But again, things may be different over there. And besides, if someone believes they have cancer, and are having issues with mental instability, it doesn't matter what you tell them, they will believe what they want to believe.

One character that really caught my attention was Ray. At the beginning, his presence in the family is something that would seem is to be dreaded. Yet as the book goes on, I, the reader, found myself liking how he was handling things. At times he would do the wrong thing, but acknowledge his wrong doing and apologize for it. It eventually came round that he was the most centered character of the bunch, and eventually the family came around to seeing it that way, too.

No matter how the book was billed, or that it may appeal more to those living in a similar society, it turned out to be an entertaining read.

7/10
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Added by Scott
9 years ago on 4 March 2008 17:26



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