Mark Haddon, A Spot of Bother (Vintage 2007)
This is a Family-Celebration-Goes-Horribly-Wrong comedy, and since we’ve just had a Wedding in the Family it was a timely read for me. Thankfully none of our disasters got beyond impending status, though the heavens came close to opening, the dog could easily have been kidnapped when he stayed behind in the park to cadge barbecued sausages from perfect strangers, and any number of half acknowledged emotional storms were crackling on the far horizon. In this book, as indeed in this whole genre of comedy, the disasters actually happen – the bride’s brother turns up late covered in mud and subsequently snogs his boyfriend in shocked view of the born-again in-laws, her father gives a bizarre speech and then headbutts one of the guests – but everything turns out all right in the end.
What makes the book interesting – compared, say, to Frank Oz’s dire box office success Death at a Funeral (so great a success that there was a remake within five years) – is the way it takes us inside the mind of a man who becomes increasingly irrational as the book progresses. George, father of the bride and disrupter of the wedding reception, is a fairly dull man, recently retired and building a studio so he can pursue his long neglected art hobby. On the first page of the book, he sees a suspicious lesion on his hip and panics. From there on, he progressively loses his grip on reality, helped by a number of the key certainties of life crumbling before his eyes. But this isn’t the The Yellow Wallpaper: eve n when George is suffering the worst, it stays funny. The prose is straightforward and engaging, as you’d expect from an accomplished writer for children, though the sex scenes make it unlikely that this will cross over from adult to child readers as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time did.
I found it refreshing to be taken on a journey into (and possibly out of) irrationality that isn’t Gothic, or medicalised, or political, or in other ways portentous. I’m uneasy that the comic treatment may involve the domestication of awful suffering, but it’s never callous. That is to say, this is an enjoyable, light read with some substantial barbs in it.