Saturday, June 21, 2008

Don't Bother Me

So I have become the designated book suggester for family and friends, only natural for someone with over twenty years of solid reading experience. But after I left Mark Haddon's second novel, A Spot of Bother, at the homestead in Atlanta, my mother called.

"Why would I like this book? It's too bizarre!"

And then, upon asking my sister if she liked the recommendation, I came upon a similar answer:

"It's SO contrived."

"How many pages did you read?" I asked, suspicious.

"Um, like five."

I instantly concluded that my mother and sister had decided, prematurely and without consulting their beacon of literary knowledge, that the book was far too wacky, British and hilarious for their taste. A loss for them, and a loss for you if you listen to the beacon's closed minded family.

Haddon introduced us to his strange, insular worldview first with the wonderful The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time, told from the perspective of an autistic British boy wondering where a neighborhood standard poodle has gone. Throughout the slim funny novel we sympathize with the narrator, and in Bother Haddon asks us to follow a far less sympathetic protagonist as he finds a mysterious spot on his leg and becomes consumed with dread.

George Hall has just retired; his daughter, Katie, saddled with a three-year-old, is engaged to a bumbling lout (how British am I today?) named Ray; he barely accepts the homosexuality of his son Jamie; and he catches his wife Jean in bed with a former coworker. If that doesn't sound like enough heavy stress, after finding a red spot on his leg he becomes completely convinced it is cancer and that amidst all of this turmoil he is quietly slipping into the great unknown.

George may be a bit of an asshole, especially given his lack of acceptance of his son. But there's something terribly charming about him, something buoyed by his extreme hypochondria and his desire to build a terribly charming gazebo in his backyard. The novel gives us a little breathing room from George by following the entire family through the tumultuous months leading up to Katie's nuptials; and through it all Haddon reconstructs the idealistic concepts of love that so many of us hold dear.

I choose not to listen to the derision of her family; I will concede that The Lovely Bones was no masterpiece, but A Spot of Bother rises above some over-the-top quirkiness to deliver the goods. This one is worth the inflated price of a paperback; go forth, dear readers, and celebrate the weirdness of the ordinary.

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