How often did he feel it now, this gorgeous, furtive seclusion?
A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon
Like many people who picked up A Spot of Bother, I’d previously read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the author’s first novel and international bestseller.
Unlike many people, though, I hadn’t particularly enjoyed it. I vaguely remember reading it in high school. It was a good read, I thought, that helped me understand autism a little better, but nothing to rave about. Earlier this year, I happened to be at a friend’s house, and her sister had a box of books she was planning to donate or throw away. I saw this sitting at the top of the pile, recognized the author’s name, and asked if I could have it.
There are many things I could say about this book, but the main thing is that it was a pain to read. Out of all the books I read this year, it took the most effort to finish, and that includes A Dance with Dragons, which tops out at a whopping 1,040 pages.
But I guess that doesn’t say that much, since even 1,040 pages will fly by if a book is engrossing enough, which ADWD definitely is. Actually, I was surprised at how much I disliked this book, especially considering how interested I was when I read the inside jacket, particularly in the character of George, the hypochondriac patriarch.
I felt sorry for George at times. But in addition to George, there are more characters: Jean, his adulterous wife; Katie, his hotheaded daughter; Jamie, his gay son; Ray, Katie’s “deeply inappropriate” fiance, and Jacob, Katie’s toddler son from a previous marriage. In addition to this family there are heaps of neighbours, acquaintances, and other relatives, who appear for one scene and are never mentioned again.
One central problem of this book is that the characters are unlikable. Unlikable heroes and heroines are common enough in literature, but in most cases, the author spends time explaining their motivations to the reader so that even if we don’t agree with a morally dubious action, we can at least understand the character’s motivation behind it. But here, the characters act on purely selfish motivations, and their lack of emotional maturity is laughable. Men and women above the age of thirty react to events like they are five years old.
I found the structure of the book difficult to get into. Each chapter is about two or three pages long, focusing on a different family member. The novel is filled with little witticisms and observations about life that are obviously meant to be profound, but were mostly cliches or just deeply uninspiring. The author slips these into every chapter, into the narration and into the dialogue, resulting in some insipid, cheesy lines that you can’t imagine anyone coming up with in real life. The sheer volume of these epiphanies and changes in perspective exhausted me as I plodded through this book.
And the biggest fault of all…there was no plot. There is the central plot, I suppose, of everyone readying themselves for Katie and Ray’s wedding, the climax of the novel. Yet I felt so uninterested in the wedding. All the “twists” were so obvious that you could have predicted them an hour into reading. The individual plots (George’s hypochondria, Jean’s adultery, Katie’s doubts about Ray, and Jamie’s relationship with Tony) are simply depictions of characters being wishy-washy about making big life decisions. If any of them had taken the time to sit down and think about how their actions were affecting other people and what they really wanted out of life, they could have resolved their situations in less than five pages. Instead, they just flip-flop back and forth, which would not be that unbearable except all of these characters are dealing with their problem in the same wishy-washy way.
None of these characters seem to know what they’re doing in life, which is something any reader can identify with, but by the end of the novel, the characters do not seem to have learned from their mistakes. The ending was also neat and tidy, despite the slew of messy problems the characters are dealing with throughout the novel. Somehow, magically, everything is solved, but not in an exciting or interesting way.
YES OR NO?: NO. I can’t stress how much I disliked this book. I picked it up because I was initially interested in the story, which to be honest sounded like a soap opera, which would at least have been entertaining. Even if you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I would stay away from this book.