A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon’s unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Here the madness (literally) of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon’s cracling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.

Unnoticed in the uproar caused by his daughter’s controversial nuptials, sixyt-one-year-old George Hall discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. The way these damaged people fall apart–and come together–as a family is the true subject of Haddon’s distrubring yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.

Are you familiar with the term “you can’t choose your family?” I am. And I am reminded of it every time I’m forced to attend dinners, parties, funerals–and the absolute worst: weddings.

(Just a reminder, happily married aunts and uncles, single people don’t like being reminded that they’re single. And for the record, having “you’ll find someone” said to you just makes the situation all the more sad.)

This, I think, is one of the reasons why I related so much to Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother, where everything starts falling apart for the Hall family when daughter Katie announces she’s marrying again–to a man no one thinks is right for her.

When I bought the book, and before I started reading it, I thought the whole thing would be told from the perspective of George, the person who is “trying to go insane politely”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the point-of-view revolves around the four members of the Hall Family.

I’m not always a fan of multiple perspectives when it comes to books. I like having an anchor when reading, not minding if I don’t know what’s happening somewhere else because it makes me feel all the more involved in the fictional (or non-fictional) world I’m reading. But with A Spot of Bother, I thought the fact that the point-of-view went around the main characters made them feel more complete, more real–more complex.

Characters lie. When you read a book with a perspective, your main character is always described with rose-tinted glasses. Sure, they can be flawed–who likes perfect protagonists anyway? But they’re always doing things that are explainable. But that’s not the case in A Spot of Bother.

When we’re reading with George, we see him as a man who just wants to be a better father than his dad; someone who likes the quiet, and for life to be as uneventful as possible. But when we switch to Jean, the wife, we see him as someone who doesn’t appreciate having a wife. From Katie’s point-of-view, he’s someone who never cared–because he’s always so reserved. And for son Jamie, George is someone who can never understand what it is to be gay–and to be happy about being gay.

Having met George through these points-of-view, he is suddenly more than just someone who wants to be a better dad. We see the life choices he made, the mistakes he will commit–we really get to know George. And while we root for him not “to go insane politely”, we’re also wishing that he’d make an effort to save his family.

Reading A Spot of Bother, I find that I like the book a lot for its character studies. Mark Haddon populated the book with almost stereotypes, but gives each character such color that you feel you’re reading about actual people.

And as for the story… Well, it serves its purpose. It takes these five characters who could’ve been one-dimensional and boring, takes them on a journey, and makes them realize that sometimes doing the polite thing just doesn’t cut it.

A highly enjoyable quick read.

Jason Lim blogs at Blurred Lights.

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