A Spot of Bother


British writer Mark Haddon got everyones attention on this side of the Atlantic with his 2004 bestselling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It was a marvelously creative story narrated by a mathematically gifted 15-year-old boy with autism. Haddon, who had spent some time as a teacher for special needs children, succeeded in having us enter young Christophers inner world and allowing us look at life as he did as a series of incidents unencumbered by emotions or nuance. Readers fell in love with his exasperated father, his kindly teachers and, of course, Christopher himself.

So we knew Haddon had a vivid imagination, but with A Spot of Bother he breaks new ground in the area of fictional family dysfunction. (Use your best British accent when saying the title.) He has created a completely different type of novel definitely for adults only set in the world of 61-year-old George Hall and his family in a town north of London.

The story begins when George notices a spot yes, literally a reddish spot on his hip which he immediately assumes is cancer. Hes newly retired from his manufacturing job and has all the time in the world to worry about impending doom. After all, as he says, he had reached the age where things went wrong and didnt always get better. The retirement also allows the detached George a great deal more interaction with his wife Jean and adult children, Jamie and Katie, and the problems that come with them.

Haddon says he hopes his new set of quirky characters are endearing, too. It may take readers some time to get to that point since theyre not exactly paragons of virtue when we meet them. Jean, for example, is not particularly supportive of Georges new stage of life and thinks, It didnt matter how much you loved someone. Thirty-five years of the house to yourself, then you had to share it with … not a stranger exactly. Oh, yes, that and it would be harder to get together with her lover, David, a man who used to work with George.

Daughter Katie is a famously difficult personality. When she announces that shes marrying a man her parents dont approve of and gets a tepid response from them, she thinks, Well, they could just live with it. Time was shed have gone off the deep end. In fact, there was a part of her which missed being the person who went off the deep end. Like her standards were slipping.

Son Jamie is gay and is having relationship problems, too. He frets about introducing his boyfriend, Tony, to his family at Katies wedding partly because he hasnt come out to them yet and partly because Tony is a little rough around the edges. He wondered sometimes, If Tony had been a dog in a previous life and not quite made the transition properly. The appetite. The energy. The lack of social graces. The obsession with smells.

Everyones issues heat up the action to a boiling point and a satisfying, if predictable, finale. A Spot of Bother needs to be looked at on its own terms and not compared to its famous older sibling The Curious Incident. It is laugh-out loud funny but deadly serious, too. If the spot of bother refers to the bumps in Georges life as well as on his body, then Haddons title could be the understatement of the year.