Mark Haddon’s Spot of Bother

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.

4 responses to “Mark Haddon’s Spot of Bother

  1. Okay then, I’ll read it.
    But I take issue with your issue with Death at a Funeral! There have been very few movies in which I have laughed the entire way through. This was one of them! No, I will NOT keep my punctuation down! Funny! ‘The Hangover’ funny! Not ‘Flying High’ funny, but still excellent.
    Umbridge!

  2. I always love it when a film that leaves me cold is someone else’s favourite. It gives me permission to hate it even more without having to worry about any slight damage I might do to the perpetrators’, um, I mean, creators’ careers. I guess for me it was just, Oh stoned out of his head on acid and wondering around naked and gibbering, so four decades ago.

  3. but it was Alan Tudyk wandering around naked & gibbering!
    I wavered between wincing at the stereotypes in Death at a Funeral, and appreciating the way they were used, and came down on the side of enjoying it.

    glad both that your family dramas were less ‘entertaining’ than the Halls’, and that you enjoyed reading about George & co.

    I hope that A Spot of Bother doesn’t get shelved in bookshops with Haddon’s kids’ books by mistake. fortunately it’s a nice fat book with smallish print and no illustrations, so it’s unlikely, and hopefully kids would just be puzzled or bored rather than disturbed by the Descent into Madness – or think it was silly.

    some very R18+ books of Russell Hoban’s are occasionally mis-shelved in the children’s section – their having surreal covers, being slim volumes and having names like Angelica’s Grotto and Mr Rhinyo-Clacton’s Offer must’ve fooled an inattentive bookseller.

  4. Hi Deborah. I’m clearly in the minority as far as Death at a Funeral is concerned. Yes, the shelving may be a problem – Neil Gaiman runs into it all the time as well, not to mention the Inner West’s own Margo Lanagan: Tender Morsels couldn’t signal itself more clearly as Not For Children (the first page is a sex scene, of a relatively benign nature), but still manages to confuse people.

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