A Spot of Bother — Review by Carole

I would love to have a dinner party and invite Mark Haddon, Christopher Moore, and Jasper Fforde. I would just sit back, serve the food and the wine, while witty banter would just fly around my dining room. Christopher would eat anything, I think, and Mark would want something spicy, but Jasper would be more circumspect about what he ate, but I don’t think he would create a spot of bother. I would want to create a menu that put everyone at their ease, perhaps a nice Spaghetti Carbonara in huge quantities.

As they talked about their latest projects, the nightmares of dealing with book tours, what their craziest fans have done (of which I would not be one, but rather a close personal friend of each of them), I would bask in the knowledge that here sat three authors who have never disappointed me. While that is a subject to blog about in itself, my list of names on that topic is quite brief. When I mentally cross reference that list with the list of authors who have made me laugh out loud, these three make the very short list.

Reading Haddon’s A Spot of Bother brought to mind this dinner party scenario. This was my second Haddon novel—The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was an amazing, poignant story that has stayed with me. In the couple of weeks since I read A Spot of Bother, I’ve found myself reflecting on it as well. Haddon’s characters are ordinary people living their lives as best they can. They are not perfect by any means; they screw up; they hurt people they love; and they don’t just neatly learn from their mistakes and fix everything by the end of the book. They remain their endearingly messed-up selves to the end and beyond.

In Bother, George, who is relatively new to the world of retirement, thinks he is dying of cancer. He doesn’t bother to confirm this—he just knows it. He then proceeds to quietly start falling apart, but he doesn’t want to cause, you guessed it, a spot of bother. This happens amidst the preparations for his daughter’s wedding to man that no one in the family can stand, but as I read the story, I found myself liking him more and more and them less and less. George’s wife is having an affair and George’s turn of mind and his constantly being underfoot is cramping her style and she doesn’t know what to do about it. George’s gay son is having his own relationship troubles because he won’t invite his boyfriend to the wedding and thereby admit that he loves him.

One of the charming aspects of this book is that it makes your own life seems relatively uncomplicated in comparison. I was more amused than horrified at the characters’ actions, and that is due entirely to Haddon’s deft handling of character, dialogue, and story.

We’ve blogged about Moore and Fforde—check out our posts and read these authors. See if you wouldn’t want me to add you to the guest list of my dinner party with the guys!


Chris said...

I would be glad to join the dinner party -- and not just because you'd be the fabulous cook! I do love those three authors as well.

While they all share a type of wit and understanding of personality, as well as a true appreciation for the absurd, I think Haddon differs in a way from the other two. Whereas Fforde and Moore are more carefree, witty and comical, Haddon grounds himself in reality, which is a different absurdity altogether. That quality of realism always anchors his stories, which may careen off into situations that are comical, but never to the comically absurd.

Maybe for me, it's the difference between "Finding Nemo" and "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" -- both are exciting and riveting, but Jacques' great white shark is scarier and more real than Bruce.

Speaking of the ocean, Carole, can we invite Carl Hiaasen to dinner, too?

Carole said...

Haddon definitely makes us laugh at the ridiculous in ourselves. Fforde's and Moore's scenarios can't really happen (I don't think), but Haddon's sets his stories in reality.

We can either invite Carl Hiaasen to dinner with these guys or start a guest list for another party. Who else would we like at the table?