22 March 2009

A Spot of Bother (Mark Haddon)

Mark Haddon's second novel (after the remarkably well-received The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) is a bit of a disappointment. Not because it's different from his first, which it is. But because it is meant to be an overly amusing tale about a seriously dysfunctional family.

Instead, it is mildly amusing and the family seems relatively normal.

It's a real pity. Okay, maybe I wasn't expecting a family unit dysfunctioning as badly as the Flytes, but I was hoping for AT LEAST humour and mishap akin to a Gerald Durrell novel. Haddon is a seriously good writer and I was excited to see what he would bring to the table. Instead, this was too easy a read, with all the depressing parts offset by moments of slapstick that did little to elevate the novel on the humour scale (too predictable) but did much to dilute any serious or meaningful scenes.

The main character George has just discovered what he believes to be a cancerous patch on his hip, not believing his doctor when he is informed it is eczema. Whilst his daughter prepares for a wedding, his wife has an affair and his son struggles with his own relationship, George goes slowly mad. The whole time I was reading this I just kept thinking "Ye gods, give the poor man some Valium." When some kind soul finally does give him Valium I felt overly smug for the rest of the novel, thus paying little attention to how the rest of it panned out.

However, low-brow content aside I could have really enjoyed this, were it not for the way the story and the humour are delivered. Haddon's too good a writer to just deliver chick-lit. He unbalances you as you're reading, making it impossible to just mindlessly enjoy the story. In high school a drama teacher (who shall remain unnamed but who, rest assured, is DEAD to me) told me I acted like a flea on heat (that story is 100% true). That's how Haddon delivers his humour, which hardly makes for a reflective reading experience.

This is all very negative of me and it wasn't a bad read, but A Spot of Bother didn't live up to expectations and at the same time didn't sink far enough below my expectations to warrant an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Rating: 7/10.
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