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A Spot of Bother: A Novel [Hardcover]

Mark Haddon
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 5 2006
George Hall is an unobtrusive man. A little distant, perhaps, a little cautious, not quite at ease with the emotional demands of fatherhood or of manly bonhomie. “The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely.” Some things in life can’t be ignored, however: his tempestuous daughter Katie’s deeply inappropriate boyfriend Ray, for instance, or the sudden appearance of a red circular rash on his hip.

At 57, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden and enjoying the freedom to be alone when he wants. But then he runs into a spot of bother. That red circular rash on his hip: George convinces himself it’s skin cancer. And the deeply inappropriate Ray? Katie announces he will become her second husband. The planning for these frowned-upon nuptials proves a great inconvenience to George’s wife, Jean, who is carrying on a late-life affair with her husband’s ex-colleague. The Halls do not approve of Ray, for vague reasons summed up by their son Jamie’s observation that Ray has “strangler’s hands.” Jamie himself has his own problems — his tidy and pleasant life comes apart when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to Katie’s wedding. And Katie, a woman whose ferocious temper once led to the maiming of a carjacker, can’t decide if she loves Ray, or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob.

Unnoticed in the uproar, George quietly begins to go mad. The way these damaged people fall apart — and come together — as a family is the true subject of Haddon’s hilarious and disturbing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.

A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon’s unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Once again, Haddon proves a master of a story at once hilarious, poignant, dark, and profoundly human. Here the madness — literally — of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon’s crackling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.

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From Publishers Weekly

If the reader were to give a voice to Haddon's protagonist, it would sound just like Keating's. George is an introverted, mild-mannered 61-year-old newly retired Brit who wants to ignore the emotional undertow of his conventional, middle-class family. Without trying to act out the characters, Keating clearly delineates each: George's wife (who is having an affair), his daughter (who is about to embark on another disastrous marriage), her fiancé (whose cockney accent highlights class antagonisms) and his son (who fears bringing his male lover to the wedding). To avoid the family fracas, George focuses on his eczema-the "spot of bother" of the title-convinced that it is cancer and that he will die soon. Keating tries to establish a lighthearted tone, but Haddon's descriptions of the characters' misery, especially George's rapid descent into madness, are too graphic to be comical. Tone aside, Haddon writes well and Keating reads well, so many listeners will enjoy this contemporary British family portrait in which everyone will live relatively happily ever after-if only they can learn to communicate with one another. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Reviews, July 17).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Totally brilliant. . . . Wondrously articulate. . . . A Spot of Bother serves as a fine example of why novels exist. . . . Haddon is an unmagic realist, a guy who finds enough pathos and humor in the everyday to fashion stories that transport, entertain and keep you reading past your bedtime.”–The New York Times Book Review

A Spot of Bother is a crisp, light, effortless read, a sympathetic and sometimes very funny social comedy that, for the most part, perfectly skewers its hapless protagonists and their hopeless pretensions. . . . Like Nick Hornby, too, [Haddon] can bring to everyday life a pleasing solidity and veracity, and he can also place a character with a single, deft phrase.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“Kind in spirit and empathetic to its characters’ assorted plights.” —The New York Times

“Haddon elevates the novel with keen intuition into human behaviour, subtly instructing his readers to appreciate their lives, no matter how superficially boring they may seem.” — Calgary Herald

“Haddon provides plenty of neat turns of phrase and sharp observations.” —National Post

A Spot of Bother meets and exceeds expectations. . . . It’s an unfair comparison, but it may help to suggest it’s a little like a British version of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, only one that feels much more like a dark sitcom. It’s a fresh, breezy, inviting look at family dysfunction.” — The Vancouver Sun

“Haddon’s fans can attest that this ability to see things from other people’s points of view is precisely his strength. . . . Once again, Haddon demonstrates his ability to crawl into his characters’ skins.” — The Gazette (Montreal)

“A very funny book. . . .The build-up to the climax is expertly done, and that climax is a near-masterwork of slapstick comedy. . . . He also does a great job of detailing the flotsam of ordinary lives without descending into arch, literary anthropology. Not a single character is held at a distance.” — Toronto Star

“Haddon has a gift for conveying the illogical responses people have when things don’t go according to plan.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“[A] delightfully touching tour de farce. . . . Haddon finds magic in the details and, as with Dog, makes the routine minutiae of day-to-day life appealing and often hilarious. . . . The observations are so astute, so gently funny, so touching, that you get caught up in the fate of the well-meaning, if slightly imprudent, Hall family.” — USA Today

“Haddon writes about the grisly minutiae of family life with the beady observation and ear for domestic surrealism of a younger Alan Bennett . . . he has a fascinated affection for the strangeness of suburban life, which he records with a humanity that eschews caricature and allows every character a measure of dignity amid the profoundest indignity. . . . A Spot of Bother is a painful, funny, humane novel; beautifully written, addictively readable and so confident.” — The Times

“The novel succeeds brilliantly . . . in its uncommon, unpretentious willingness to capture the intricacies of communication between children, parents and lovers, without resorting to easy cynicism, following complex everyday family dramas through to provisionally happy resolutions. Haddon is particularly skilled at showcasing the silences, misunderstandings and missed opportunities that spring from parents and children speaking at cross-purposes.” — The Globe and Mail

“Style is everything in the farce game and, happily, Haddon brings much of that to the table, with a dry yet acerbic wit. . . . A Spot of Bother, so different from Haddon’s name-making novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a bit of jolly good fun.” — New York Daily News

A Spot of Bother is such a pleasure to read — it is funny, wry, and well-paced — that it is only later that you realize what a thoughtful novel it is. . . . Satisfying and emotionally rich.” — Powell’s Books, “Review-a-Day”

“This is a masterful novel in which Haddon has surpassed his previous achievement. He pulls off the extraordinary trick of being simultaneously riotously funny, profoundly insightful, and deeply poignant. . . . Haddon has written beautifully about the messiness of life with a poise and grit that few novelists truly possess. Fans of Curious Incident can rest assured that they won’t be disappointed.” — The Scotsman

“Haddon’s style is a reader’s bliss. He writes seamless prose. The words are melted into meaning. . . . Haddon’s gift is to make us look at ourselves when we think we’re looking away, being entertained. . . . A Spot of Bother is perfect medicine.” — The Scotsman

“Very funny and deeply painful.” — The Independent

Nothing short of brilliant…. Haddon has filled 390 pages with sharp and witty observations about family and daily life…. A superb novel.” — The Independent

“No bother at all, this comic follow-up to Haddon’s blockbuster (and a best-selling book of poems) is great fun.” — Publishers Weekly

“The writing is fresh, funny and wise. [Haddon’s] dry, nimble style is pitch perfect, capturing the hectic anxieties of a family constantly teetering on the edge between respectability and humiliation.” — New York Observer

“Haddon persuades us to join George in not knowing who is out of touch with reality and who isn’t, and to feel the balance tilt alarmingly as the events rush by. It is an appealingly disorienting experience . . . a work of art. . . . A Spot of Bother is witty as well as funny.” TLS

“Entertaining. Haddon has all the ingredients for a classic, sappy tale of family dysfunction, but his sharp humour, ear for the absurd and refusal to pigeonhole his characters makes his story anything but predictable.” — Edmonton Journal

“If anyone can make mental illness entertaining, it’s Mark Haddon. . . . A darkly funny take on a family all to ordinary but fascinating in their emotional complexity.” — Toronto Sun

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh. Could take it over leave it. April 15 2009
I'm not really sure what to say about this novel.

On the one hand it had all the elements of a story that I would like. Great character development. Good plot. Cleanly written so that the story made for a fast read. Short chapters so again, it felt like a fast read. And likable characters, especially the main protagonist George.

So if I liked all these traits of the book then why am I on the fence as to where I stand with this novel? Well for starters the book dragged on. And on. And then on again. I mean there were parts of the book that I was reading, saying to myself "enough already. Just get on with it." And I'm afraid that I found myself saying this more often than not as I made my way through this book.

So what's the book about? In short it's about a family and its dysfunctions. You have George who thinks everything is wrong with him and his health. Then there's his wife who is having an affair. Don't forget the son Jamie who is gay. And of course the daughter Katie who is getting married to a guy the family doesn't like. All of which makes for a rich tapestry of story telling.

The book is definitely not as entertaining as Haddon's first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. However it was an entertaining read. If you're looking for a Corrections type novel, then by all means give this novel a read.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spot of Brilliance Sept. 23 2006
Definitely as funny as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The shared madness of these characters is over Katie and Ray's wedding. There's a great quote in the book that weddings are not about the people getting married. They're just the two little figures at the top of the cake. Weddings are about families.

This is one crazy, messed up family. Haddon writes this fictional family's madness so well that I'm curious to meet his family.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars funny andd thought-provoking Aug. 24 2008
By Alixe
A Spot of Bother: A Novel I enjoyed this novel and was quite taken by the various emotions it stirred up in me. Indeed, it seemed to me as an accurate depiction of someone going not quite insane. It also accurately depicted how complicated relationships can be. I realize that many, many novels address this issue, but "a spot of bother" tackles it brilliantly. Often funny yet somewhat sad, this is definitely a thought-provoking story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... May 30 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
In "A Spot of Bother," the follow-up to Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime," protagonist George Hall becomes convinced that his eczema is actually cancer. He launches into a psychological tailspin while trying to channel a host of other problems: his daughter, Katie, is raising a toddler and is engaged to the unlikable Ray, his wife, Jean, is having an affair with George's co-worker and his son, Jamie, has been dumped by his boyfriend. Haddon does an amazing job of getting into the head of each character, intimately describing Jean's waffling over her affair, Katie's overwhelmed state as a single mother and George's depression. The book is hilariously odd but also touching and it leaves the reader with a genuine sympathy for poor George.
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