Review: “A Spot of Bother”

I have an announcement to make! Mark Haddon’s latest novel, A Spot of Bother, is an amusing light comedy-drama about an upcoming wedding and the inevitable wacky family turmoil that ensues. And that’s about it.

I feel it’s necessary to point this out, because it flies in the face of the melodramatic copy on the inside dust jacket, which promises a story of suspense, “sinister” lesions, and the lead character “going mad.” This is a shame, because it seems like the author and publisher would be better served marketing this otherwise well-written and tightly paced novel to the type of people who might actually be interested in reading it. Instead, they seem to be selling it as a follow up to Haddon’s earlier book — The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, an unorthodox mystery told from the point of view of an autistic teen — which it most certainly is not.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m told that someone has “gone mad,” I imagine them screaming, seeing visions, writing Bible verses on the walls with their own feces, possibly killing people. A Spot of Bother is determined to be a novel told from a very stuffy, British point of view, however (you might have guessed as much from the title). And so, as it turns out, this character’s madness is actually more of the stuffy, British variety — the kind where any behavior that’s even slightly out of the ordinary is seen as cause to change the topic of conversation.

I started to feel sorry for poor old George, after a while. There’s no stabbing of anyone anywhere in this book. George does do a little cutting, however, and a whole lot of weeping and gazing dejectedly. He’s obviously going through a major depression. And for this they all say he’s “going mad.” Gee, way to go, people. How’s that for sympathetic?

But there’s a reason that none of them can pay attention to George’s encroaching personality disorder. And that is, of course, because there’s a wacky wedding afoot!

The most misleading part of the dust-jacket copy is that it gives you the impression that this is a book about George, which it is not. As I’ve said before, it’s a book about a family and a wedding. It’s not even told from George’s point of view. Instead, it jumps from one POV to the next, as we get little glimpses into the wacky lives of all these wacky, wacky characters.

While George is busy with his halfhearted attempt at going mad, meanwhile his wife is having an affair. Will she run away with the other man or won’t she? George’s son has had a fight with his lover — a homosexual, and in England no less — and he’s trying to figure out a way to mend things. And George’s daughter, whose wedding has been the catalyst for all this turmoil, has realized — no, wait, keep reading, you’ll never see what’s coming next — she’s realized that she’s not really sure that she wants to get married!

Yes! There, I said it. I’m sorry if I’ve given too much away. Maybe I should have marked it with something saying “SPOILERS AHEAD.” I was just so giddy with the telling of it that I’m afraid it all ran away with me.

Do you detect some sarcasm? Maybe at this point I’m actually doing the book a disservice. Maybe I’m just a little annoyed with it. Because it really is a perfectly serviceable novel. The dialogue seems authentic, the characters well-drawn, the pacing is good and the story concludes in a totally satisfactory way. It’s also a great book for people who like to read on the train, because it’s one of those books where the author starts a new chapter every couple of pages. I think there was literally something like 146 chapters in roughly 350 pages. All together, this adds up to a fairly enjoyable read about a wedding, a family, and all the drama and turmoil that surround their lives.

If that’s really the kind of thing you’re into.