Dec 5, 2007

[Books] A Spot of Bother

A Spot of BotherI became an instant fan of Mark Haddon after reading his award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I found to be rather good despite the mixed reactions of critics and even some of my friends. Despite the lack of a clear consensus, I jumped at picking up his next title, A Spot of Bother as soon as I saw it was out in paperback although it took me a fair amount of time before I was free enough to actually read it.

While it started out a bit slow, the unique interactions between the characters certainly made it a powerful piece that was difficult to put down towards the end as the action picks up.

At its core, A Spot of Bother is a book about family. I don't mean that in a warm and fuzzy Disney way, but more along the lines of the complicated messes we enjoy watching as part of daytime television and prime time dramas. Yeah, that kind of family. The very realistic and dirty kind.

The Halls are certainly an unusual family. George appears to be losing his mind and his wife of many years is secretly having an affair. Jamie, their gay son is trying to figure out where his relationship with Tony is going. Their daughter Katie is getting married to Ray, whom the family doesn't approve of. How all of them come together and their various secrets and complications interplay with one another is what makes this story interesting, another demonstration that Haddon seems to be adept at writing about, well, the dysfunctional - for lack of a better term.

The strength of the book lies in its characters and how well-fleshed out they are. They seem like any other family with its own share of secrets and lies and not some set piece of quirky stereotypes brought together for the purpose of literary entertainment. It all feels terribly genuine (and very, very British), which can be both humorous and scary.

That's another key piece to all of thus - the humor. It's light and at times a bit tongue-in-cheek but it never gets out of hand. Despite how grim and unsettling some of the themes can get to be, Haddon managed to keep the book still somewhat buoyant and relatively easy to read once you get past the fast-paced character introductions. Families don't stand around timing things so you have time to understand them one-by-one; things just keep on happening and you do your best to keep up.

Oh, and I'd be mad to call this a gay book if only because there are gay characters. Get off that kind of hasty generalization, okay? It's always nice to have gay characters around without the need for them to fulfill the role of comic relief. This is a novel about family after all and families do have gay sons in them and the author made sure not too much undue attention was given to him or any other character other than George as he descends into madness. That's what's important.

It may not be the kind of book you'd normally pick up, but it'll definitely be worth your while.

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