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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mark Haddon: A Spot of Bother (Rating: 8)

As I mentioned yesterday in my Comment Friday post, I finished reading A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. While I didn't enjoy it as much as his earlier book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, it was an enjoyable read.

Here are the things I liked about it:

I rather enjoyed the main characters:

  • George Hall, a recently retired man who discovers at the outset of the book—while trying on suits to wear to a friends funeral, no less—a spot on his side which he believes may be cancer
  • Jean, George's wife, who finds it difficult having George home all the time now, especially as she has for some time been having an affair with a man George used to work with
  • Katie, George and Jean's troublesome daughter, a divorced mom with a young son named Jacob
  • Jamie, George and Jean's gay son
  • Ray, the man who is dating Katie and wants to marry her

Also, there were particular scenes I rather enjoyed:

For instance, here's how Chapter Two opens:

He decided not to mention the incident to Jean. She would only want to talk about it and this was not an appealing proposition.

Talking was, in George's opinion, overrated. You could not turn the television on these days without seeing someone discussing there adoption or explaining why they had stabbed their husband. Not that he was averse to talking. Talking was one of life's pleasures. And everyone needed to sound off now and then over a pint of Ruddles about colleagues who did not shower frequently enough, or teenage sons who had returned home drunk in the small hours and thrown up in the dog's basket. But it did not change anything.

The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely. How anyone could work in the same office for ten years or bring up children without putting certain thoughts permanently to the back of their mind was beyond him. And as for that last grim lap when you had a catheter and no teeth, memory loss seemed like a godsend.

There is another scene, somewhat later in the book, that really tickled me: throughout much of the book, George is a bit unhinged by what is going on in his life. At one point he is having a particularly bad crisis, and decides he wants to grab a bottle of wine and head out to the studio that he is building behind his house. But Jean calls him to the phone because Ray is returning George's earlier call to him. After Jean gives George the phone,

Ray said, "George. It's Ray. Katie tells me you wanted a chat."

It was like those phone calls that woke you up at night. It was hard remembering what your were meant to do.

He had absolutely no idea what he had wanted to chat to Ray about.

Was this really happening, or had he tipped over into some kind of delusional state? Was he still lying on the bed upstairs?

"George?" said Ray. "Are you there?"

He tried to say something. A small mewling noise came out of his mouth. He moved the receiver away from his head and looked at it. Ray's voice was still emerging from the little holes. George did not want this to carry on any longer.

Carefully, he put the phone back onto the receiver. He turned and walked into the kitchen. Jean was filling the washing machine and he did not have the energy for the argument that would ensue if he walked out the door with a bottle of wine.

"That was quick," said Jean.

"Wrong number," said George.

He was halfway down the garden in his socks before he realized why Jean might not have fallen for this brilliant piece of subterfuge.

Here's yet another scene I liked:

George realized that Dr. Barghoutian was not so stupid after all.

The Valium was good. The Valium was very good indeed.

Then, a short while later in the same scene:

The only problem with Valium was that it did not encourage rational thought. It was only after supper, when the effects of the two pills he had taken during the afternoon began to wear off, that he did the maths. There were only ten pills in the bottle to start with. If he were to carry on taking them at this rate he would run out before the wedding had begun.

It began to dawn on him that although Dr. Barghoutian was wise, he had not been generous.

There wasn't much that I didn't like about this book, and that may be easily summed up as finding the final scene a bit disappointing for reasons I couldn't put my finger on.

Could I have come up with something better? Not likely.

Was it unbelievable? Nope.

Did I feel everything was resolved, one way or another? You betcha.

So why the let down?

I really can't say.

Perhaps it wasn't dramatic enough.

Or perhaps it had gotten so dramatic right before the end that when the end came it paled by comparison.

Whatever the reason, I felt I needed a bit more.

But it was still a very worthwhile read.

This book forces you to think about your feelings of mortality, that's for sure, but it doesn't depress the crap out of you in the process.Post to


~willow~ said...

I really enjoyed Haddon's Dog/Nighttime book too, but hadn't realized he's out with another book, thanks, this goes on my to-read list immediately! :-)