George Hall is an unobtrusive man. A little distant, perhaps, a little cautious, not at quite at ease with the emotional demands of fatherhood, or manly bonhomie. He does not understand the modern obsession with talking about everything. "The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely." Some things in life, however, cannot be ignored.
At 61, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels and listening to a bit of light jazz. Then his tempestuous daughter, Katie, announces that she is getting re-married, to the deeply inappropriate Ray. Her family is not pleased - as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has "strangler's hands." Katie can't decide if she loves Ray, or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob, and her mother Jean is a bit put out by all the planning and arguing the wedding has occasioned, which get in the way of her quite fulfilling late-life affair with one of her husband's ex-colleagues. And the tidy and pleasant life Jamie has created crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded nuptials.
Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind.
The way these damaged people fall apart - and come together - as a family is the true subject of Haddon's disturbing yet amusing 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. Here the madness - literally - of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon's crackling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.
From the Hardcover edition.
Recent retiree George Hall, convinced that his eczema is cancer, goes into a tailspin in Haddon's (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) laugh-out-loud slice of British domestic life. George, 61, is clearly channeling a host of other worries into the discoloration on his hip (the "spot of bother"): daughter Katie, who has a toddler, Jacob, from her disastrous first-marriage to the horrid Graham, is about to marry the equally unlikable Ray; inattentive wife Jean is having an affair--with George's former co-worker, David Symmonds; and son Jamie doesn't think George is OK with Jamie's being queer. Haddon gets into their heads wonderfully, from Jean's waffling about her affair to Katie's being overwhelmed (by Jacob, and by her impending marriage) and Jamie's takes on men (and boyfriend Tony in particular, who wants to come to the wedding). Mild-mannered George, meanwhile, despairing over his health, slinks into a depression; his major coping strategies involve hiding behind furniture on all fours and lowing like a cow. It's an odd, slight plot--something like the movie Father of the Bride crossed with Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (as skin rash)--but it zips along, and Haddon subtly pulls it all together with sparkling asides and a genuine sympathy for his poor Halls. No bother at all, this comic follow-up to Haddon's blockbuster (and nicely selling book of poems) is great fun. (Sept.)
Copyright A(c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 12, 2007
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Excerpt from A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
It began when George was trying on a black suit in Allders the week before Bob Green's funeral.
It was not the prospect of the funeral that had unsettled him. Nor Bob dying. To be honest he had always found Bob's locker-room bonhomie slightly tiring and he was secretly relieved that they would not be playing squash again. Moreover, the manner in which Bob had died (a heart attack while watching the Boat Race on television) was oddly reassuring. Susan had come back from her sister's and found him lying on his back in the center of the room with one hand over his eyes, looking so peaceful she thought initially that he was taking a nap.
It would have been painful, obviously. But one could cope with pain. And the endorphins would have kicked in soon enough, followed by that sensation of one's life rushing before one's eyes which George himself had experienced several years ago when he had fallen from a stepladder, broken his elbow on the rockery and passed out, a sensation which he remembered as being not unpleasant (a view from the Tamar Bridge in Plymouth had figured prominently for some reason). The same probably went for that tunnel of bright light as the eyes died, given the number of people who heard the angels calling them home and woke to ﬁnd a junior doctor standing over them with a defibrillator.
Then . . . nothing. It would have been over.
It was too early, of course. Bob was sixty-one. And it was going to be hard for Susan and the boys, even if Susan did blossom now that she was able to finish her own sentences. But all in all it seemed a good way to go.
No, it was the lesion which had thrown him.
He had removed his trousers and was putting on the bottom half of the suit when he noticed a small oval of puffed flesh on his hip, darker than the surrounding skin and flaking slightly. His stomach rose and he was forced to swallow a small amount of vomit which appeared at the back of his mouth.
He had not felt like this since John Zinewski's Fireball had capsized several years ago and he had found himself trapped underwater with his ankle knotted in a loop of rope. But that had lasted for three or four seconds at most. And this time there was no one to help him right the boat.
He would have to kill himself.
It was not a comforting thought but it was something he could do, and this made him feel a little more in control of the situation.
The only question was how.
Jumping from a tall building was a terrifying idea, easing your center of gravity out over the edge of the parapet, the possibility that you might change your mind halfway down. And the last thing he needed at this point was more fear.
Hanging needed equipment and he possessed no gun.
If he drank enough whiskey he might be able to summon the courage to crash the car. There was a big stone gateway on the A16 this side of Stamford. He could hit it doing 90 mph with no difficulty whatsoever.
But what if his nerve failed? What if he were too drunk to control the car? What if someone pulled out of the drive? What if he killed them, paralyzed himself and died of cancer in a wheelchair in prison?
"Sir...? Would you mind accompanying me back into the store?"
A young man of eighteen or thereabouts was staring down at George. He had ginger sideburns and a navy blue uniform several sizes too large for him.
George realized that he was crouching on the tiled threshold outside the shop.
George got to his feet. "I'm terribly sorry."
"Would you mind accompanying me...?"
George looked down and saw that he was still wearing the suit trousers with the fly undone. He buttoned it rapidly. "Of course."
He walked back through the doors then made his way between the handbags and the perfumes toward the menswear department with the security guard at his shoulder. "I appear to have had some kind of turn."
"You'll have to discuss that with the manager, I'm afraid, sir."
The black thoughts which had filled his mind only seconds before seemed to have occurred a very long time ago. True, he was a little unsure on his feet, the way you were after slicing your thumb with a chisel, for example, but he felt surprisingly good given the circumstances.
The manager of the menswear department was standing bedside a rack of slippers with his hands crossed over his groin. "Thank you, John." The security guard gave him a deferential little nod, turned on his heels and walked away. "Now, Mr...."
"Hall. George Hall. My apologies. I . . ."
"Perhaps we should have a word in my office," said the manager.
A woman appeared carrying George's trousers. "He left these in the changing room. His wallet's in the pocket."
George pressed on. "I think I had some kind of blackout. I really didn't mean to cause any trouble."