A Spot of Bother
Mark Haddon's latest work, A Spot of Bother, is a novel that paints an entertaining picture of an unhappy English family whose bonds are continually expanded and retracted like a tired rubber band. While Haddon's previous novel, 2004's much-lauded The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, centered on the journey of a single character, here he expands his narrative points of view to encompass every member of the Hall family. In paragraphs that read like shouts trying to be heard above a collective din, Haddon gathers his characters together for-what else?-a lavish wedding that begs from the outset to be disrupted in spectacular fashion.
George is the family patriarch whose bothersome spot is a case of eczema that spurs a frighteningly realized mental breakdown. His wife, Jean, when not cuckolding him with his former colleague, plays the family's support beam by managing everything from chocolate snacks for her grandson to arrangements for her daughter's wedding. George and Jean begat Jamie and Katie, both with their own commitment issues-the former is dumped by his lover Tony in the opening chapters, and the latter, the bride-to-be, is unsure about her impending marriage and her true feelings for Ray, who is treated by the family with typical son-in-law hostility despite his doting on Katie's son from another marriage. There is enough family, extended family, friends, and lovers-each with his or her own respective issues-to provide a host of run-on sentences. You can imagine how crazy the nuptials get.
A Spot of Bother's fun lies not in the event itself but the way in which this troubled family unravels. Disaster compounds upon disaster-and miscommunication, as it is with any contemporary family, is central to the Halls. The situational humor is undercut throughout by George's downward spiral, an event as harrowing as it is tiresome by his third suicide attempt. For all its enjoyment and hilarity, Haddon isn't saying anything particularly new, or exciting, with this novel. If you can pardon the occasional moment of melodrama and plug your nose during periodic stenches of sentimentality, A Spot of Bother makes for an entertaining diversion.