Mike Recommends: A Spot of Bother

"If only you could lift a lid on the top of your head
and say, 'Look.' "

Families are dysfunctional. Most of the time things manage to hang together, but tug at them slightly and they start unraveling like wool from an old jumper.

Mark Haddon, in his sequel to The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-Time, pulls at that thread by introducing a forthcoming marriage and a lesion on the hip of George Hall.

"He was dying of cancer. It was a horrible thought. But if he could just store it over there, in the 'Thoughts about Dying of Cancer' box, he might be OK."

It took me a while to get into the book, as Mark tells the story from the point of view of four of the family members, each taking their turns in their own stream of chapters; a little like Talking it Over by Julian Barnes.
Once I settled in though I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is also very funny:

"They could trace calls. At least they could in films. But in films you could make someone pass out by squeezing their shoulder."

"A couple of hours? Sarah wasn't very clued up about children and time measurement. Jacob was pretty much incapable of distinguishing between last week and the extinction of the dinosaurs."

George starts to go mad as Mark pulls at the lesion thread and as you read you do wonder how far Mark will go with it. George's greatest scenes happen in bathrooms and it is here that Mark reaches the brilliance of his first book. Because to be honest, good as this book is, it is not as good as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

However ... wait before you stone me ... it does sit as a good companion to his first book.
Dog gave insight into the disintegrating world of a child with autism.
Spot gives you insight into the unraveling world of, well you or me, or the people living next door. You have been warned.

Are you getting older?
Do you use bathrooms?

If you answer yes to these, and I'm interested if you don't, then you could end up being like George.
It's no good holding on. If you have got to go.
You are in the bathroom now aren't you?
Okay carry on reading but be careful ...

So in Dog we see Christopher hiding from the world:

"So I climbed onto the middle shelf and I pulled one of the cases across like a door so that I was shut in, and it was dark and there was no one in there with me and I couldn't hear people talking so I felt much calmer and it was nice."

And in Spot we see George hiding from his family:

"He lay down and rolled into the shallow drainage ditch where the grass dipped before going under the fence. His coat was green. If he lay still they might not find him."

Can't wait to see what Mark comes up with next. Whose head is he going to flip open next?

An array of covers from the book
from the UK, USA and Germany.

Mark Haddon lives in Oxford. Visit his web site at www.markhaddon.com.
Read an interview with Mark on A Spot of Bother.
Read an extract from A Spot of Bother.

Next Month: The Swap by by Antony Moore.


Paul said...

Must be hard to follow up something as successful as 'The Curious Incident'. Maybe this accounts for my reluctance to buy 'A Spot of Bother' straightaway---have passed it by twice in the last three months, but will get round to it. Your review will spur me on.

Was disappointed with DBC Pierre's second novel ('Ludmilla's Broken English') after the very successful 'Vernon God Little', but that's the way things sometimes go, I guess. Must be difficult in any arena when you've raised the bar (and other people's expectations) first time round.

Have you read any of Mark Haddon's children's books, Mike? If so, what are your impressions?

Mike French said...

Paul: Be warned that it did take me a while to get into 'A Spot of Bother'! I notice from your blog that you have been struggling with books that don't grab you quickly. Initially I was disappointed to be honest, but it got better as it went along and touched the bar of "The Curious Incident" for a glorious moment and then fell away again.

As for his children's books. No. Would you recommend them?

Paul said...

Haven't seen his kids books myself, Mike, but I'm a big fan of these generally. The only problem with having your kids grow up is that there isn't the excuse to buy so many anymore.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Hi Mike and Paul,

I LOVE children's books. Used to read them all the time with my daughter, until she spontaneously began reading over my shoulder at the age of almost 5.

I don't know whether we read so much for her, or for me, but she was reading 20-30 chapter books a week by second grade.

After that point, I began to write them. Now you've inspired me to perhaps do a writing based blog!

Mike French said...

Lynda: Go for it!

I read every night to my kids, they love it.

I remember my Mum reading Water Babies by Charles Kingsley to me as a kid. There is something magical about having a story read to you as a kid in the safety of your bed.