a spot of bother by mark haddon
Available from amazon.com in paperback for $10.20 (why do I always link you to amazon? I don’t get paid for it. It’s just convenient. Maybe I’m secretly hoping for remuneration.)
Goodreads rating: 4/5. well, maybe 3.5/5. I don’t know.
Mark Haddon’s previous novel, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, was really, really great, so I was excited to see this novel when it first came out, and excited to see it again on the library’s shelf. Alas, as is so often the case when I bother to look forward to something, this novel was not as great as I had hoped. On the bright side, though, it was still pretty wonderful. It was sad, suspenseful, and laugh-out-loud funny in parts. I definitely enjoyed reading it.
I wanted to write, “This book centers on _____,” but I couldn’t decide. The title refers ostensibly to a bubble of eczema that one of the book’s main characters is convinced is actually cancer, but it may also refer to the difficulty of all sorts of relationships, or perhaps the irritation of wedding planning (which also happens). I suppose this book centers on the Hall family and the (dysfunctional but endearing) way they relate to each other and their other loved ones. At the risk of giving things away, I will just say that in spite of all the “bother” going on in this story, things end up exactly the way I want them to. There’s more to say, but again, I can’t say much about why I liked this or that particular aspect of the ending because I’m hoping you will all go read this yourselves, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. One particularly delightful (and horrifying and sad) scene showed George Hall (he of the cancerous eczema) attempting, in his madness, to actually cut off his “cancer” with kitchen shears. And yes, it was so well told that shuddering at the idea is entirely appropriate. However, it was also well-told enough that I almost wanted to laugh out loud in a sort of “Is he doing what I think he’s doing? Surely he’s not– oh my goodness! He just did! Aaaagh!” kind of way. So it’s that sort of a book.
Now, the less great stuff. I don’t feel like this book’s approach (point-of-view, etc.) was as interesting as some other books I’ve read, but then, how do you top a narrator with mental disabilities? Also, there was A LOT of sex in this book. It wasn’t necessarily graphic, but even when it wasn’t being discussed directly, it was still kind of peeking out between the lines. There were several times when Character X and Character Y were getting it on, and, again, while this wasn’t described graphically, there was plenty of “significant detail,” and personally I didn’t find any of it pleasant. I guess ugly, old, and average people have sex as much as anyone else, but I just don’t like thinking about it. Still, if a novel is going to address relationships, I can understand why an author would feel it was necessary to address their sexual nature. So, I guess I get it, but it’s still icky to me. Puritanical? Maybe so. Still. Blech.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable novel. If you’re not squeamish about sex, then I say definitely give it a read. If you are a little squeamish, maybe you can just “fast forward” over those parts. If you’re very squeamish, eh, it’s your call. The writing is superb and the plot wonderful. I really doubt you’re reading something better right now. If you’re reading Anita Stansfield or some “light beach reading,” I know you’re not reading anything better. I recommend reading it with hot cocoa and cinnamon streusel muffins.