2007-07-12 / Opinions

Book Review

A Spot of Bother By MARK HADDON

Mark Haddon's previous novel, "the international bestseller" (as the publicity likes to say) was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- Time. One can tell from the titles that the writer has a distinctive sense of humor.

George Hall is 61, settling down to a comfortable retirement, when he encounters really more than a bit of "bother." "The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely." Perhaps fortunately, George is not the only character telling this story.

His daughter Katie has announced that she will marry Ray, knowing that her family will not be pleased with her decision. She herself is not too sure about the decision. His son Jamie has issues of his own. He "had spent a great deal of time and energy arranging his life precisely as he wanted. Work. Home. Family. Friends. Tony. Exercise." Sadly, the coming wedding causes a rift with Tony.

Meanwhile, Jean, mother of Katie and Jamie, and wife to George, is absorbed in her affair with David. She still cares for George, and is tolerant of his current obsession with building a wall. "Seven or 57, they needed their projects."

Jean doesn't realize at first that George is using his wall and other activities to keep at bay his rising anxiety about his health. He is convinced that a skin lesion is cancer, even though the doctor tries to reassure him. "That was what anxiety did, persuaded you to get out of dangerous situations fast. Leopards, big spiders, strange men coming across the river with spears."

As you can tell from all these quotations, this is the kind of book that one wants to read aloud to friends and family. There may not be men coming across the river, but the problems of this family are real, and the reader wants to advise and help them before the situation becomes hopeless. At the same time, Haddon is making all these quiet jokes that convince us that maybe "everything will be all right."

A few more quotations? "He looked at the pallbearers and realized he's never seen one with a beard. He wondered if it was a rule."

"The human mind was not designed for sunbathing and light novels. Not on consecutive days at any rate. The human mind was designed for doing stuff. Making spears, hunting antelope . . ."

"What they failed to teach you at school was that the whole business of being human just got messier and more complicated as you got older."

A Spot of Bother begins gently, but the pace picks up, and the reader rushes on, hoping that this sympathetic writer will not turn a quietly realistic novel into a tragedy.

The book will soon be available at the Mary Willis Library.

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