Thursday, 5 January 2012

Utter Delight: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

Reading is probably my biggest hobby. There's nothing better than going on a free holiday in the world of a good author. One of the reasons I love England so much is they've got charity shops filled with pristine second-hand books even in the smallest villages. Here's a book I picked up on my last London trip a few weeks ago.

Normally I wouldn't recommend a book that I haven't finished yet, but I can't help myself with this one. A Spot of Bother is just frickin' hilarious, and I can't recommend it enough.

Mark Haddon is the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; but I haven't read that one yet. I don't usually read the books that everyone is raving about, at least not until the furore has died down a bit. I'm funny that way. But I'll certainly pick up The Curious Incident from the library once I'm done with this one.

So, A Spot of Bother.
It's all about the turmoil a slightly dysfunctional but loving family goes through when volatile daughter Katie announces she is getting married to her lover Ray, to the dismay of her parents and her brother.

Ray has been very good to Katie and he loves Jacob, her little boy from her first marriage. But Ray isn't really "one of us" as her mother admits to herself in a rare moment of brutal honesty. But none of that matters because Katie loves Ray. Or does she?

Katie's mother Jean isn't exactly in a position to criticize her daughter's choices in matters of the heart. She has relationship troubles of her own. Not long after the early retirement of her husband she started an affair with his ex-colleague David who frankly suits her far better.

The wedding announcement turns the comfortable, compartmentalized life of Katie's brother Jamie upside down. His parents have always been rather uncomfortable with his sexuality. The big question for Jamie is: should he bring his lover Tony to the wedding? How will Tony react if he doesn't? How will his family react if he does?

And then there is Katie's father George who, according to the blurb, "quietly begins to lose his mind". This results in him taking drastic measures to rid himself of a lesion which he is convinced is a sign of skin cancer.

A Spot of Bother is both desperately sad and incredibly funny. Haddon gets all the heightened tension and emotion that come with a wedding just right. I laughed till I ached about some of the silly arguments this family finds themselves in.
It was true. There really was no limit to the ways in which you could say the wrong thing to your children. You offered an olive branch and it was the wrong olive branch at the wrong time.
George discovers a painful truth about parenting (p.74)

I've still got a hundred pages or so to go. This book is such a delight that I almost don't want to finish it. I don't want to say goodbye to this family just yet. On the other hand I want answers to my questions. Will Jean get up the courage to begin a new life with David? Will Katie get her perfect wedding? Will Jamie be able to integrate his love life with his family life? And will George get the help he so obviously needs? There's nothing for it, I have to keep on reading.

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