three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
Mark Haddon
user_rating: 
0

A-A Spot of BotherWhile trying on trousers, aging patriarch George Hall discovers a large purple lesion on his hip. He immediately assumes the spot to be cancer and himself to be doomed. As he struggles with existential angst, the troubles pile on: his daughter, Katie, wants to marry a laborer whom she’s not sure she loves; his son won’t admit to being gay (though everyone knows he is); and his wife is having an affair with one of his former colleagues. Despite their individual difficulties, everyone attempts to pull together and become a family once again, ready to face Katie’s impending wedding with as much humor as dread.
Doubleday. 354 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0385520514

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Haddon is] so wondrously articulate, so rigorous in thinking through his characters’ mind-sets, that A Spot of Bother serves as a fine example of why novels exist. … Beyond the zingers and tragicomic domestic set pieces, Haddon is especially heroic in capturing the tortured dynamics of nuclear-family life." David Kamp

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"This novel is every bit as good as Haddon’s best-selling debut … and better if you give extra credit for droll humor. … A Spot of Bother pulls off the smart trick of delivering fully human characters whose flaws make them almost impossible to live with, then depicts their love for one another as completely convincing." Karen Sandstrom

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Haddon has made us suffer his characters’ confusions, heartaches, and desperation. But then their problems are all resolved in an oddly conventional, even pat, Hollywood finale. … Still, one should hardly disdain fine craftsmanship, especially when a novel gets so many things exactly right." Michael Dirda

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite the angst, Haddon’s is a tender universe, one in which warmth and humor will peek out even in extremity. … Mortality, fallibility, forgiveness, what goes assumed—those are big issues that Haddon raises with a light hand in a book that, despite its serious side, approaches the picaresque in both plot and ethos." Art Winslow

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A Spot of Bother is a worthy sibling to the debut. … The story is rooted in real conflict that has the reader pulling for everyone to sort things out, even though it’s clear there will be pain before that can happen." Robin Vidimos

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Though the plot may be slight, even melodramatic … the story has its appealing moments, as when George cooks dinner for his wife’s lover. Unfortunately, we are able to see to the end of the book halfway through, and some of the author’s set pieces already feel like used goods." Barbara Liss

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"With humor and insight, Haddon adeptly reflects the dynamics within a family—who’s angry with whom, who stands up for whom—and how rapidly they can change. But after a while, although they’re mostly a likable bunch, the Halls grow tiresome." Connie Ogle

Critical Summary

Mark Haddon’s first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003), was a critical hit, a best seller, and a Bookmarks staff favorite; A Spot of Bother is a very different book, making the inevitable comparisons somewhat difficult. Critics agree that Haddon’s style remains smooth, clever, and appealing, but they differ on the question of whether that’s enough to overcome a somewhat predictable plot and an overly neat ending. The depictions of the Halls are accurate and humorous, and while Briticisms fly thick and fast, they add to the atmosphere and don’t get too much in the way of American readers. Despite some shortcomings, A Spot of Bother is a charming, entertaining read.