Life for the Hall family seems rather ordinary on the surface. Katie, a divorced mother, announces her plans to marry her live-in boyfriend, Ray, a man her family does not quite approve of. Jamie seems to be content with the order of things for the most part, including his love life; however, he still struggles with just how little his parents understand his relationship. Jean is trying to find a good balance in her life now that her husband has retired, balancing her husband and her lover.
Then there is George, who is adjusting to the retired life and somewhat oblivious to what is going on around him. He is a relatively simple man used to working hard and meeting the needs of his family as best he can. Katie and Jamie love their parents but prefer to keep their distance, neither feeling completely understood. Jean and George feel that they did the best they could for their children and only want them to be happy.
George’s peace of mind is shattered when he discovers a lesion on his hip which he is sure is cancer. He puts off going to the doctor as long as he can, but an incident over a family dinner forces him to face his fears, and off to the doctor he goes. No matter what the doctor says, no matter how comforting he may be, George’s mind is set. As his obsession with death grows, he begins to feel he is losing his mind, a secret he tries to hide from his family despite their growing concern.
Author of the well known The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon brings to life a rather ordinary dysfunctional family, each individual focused on their own growing dramas, be it breakups, heartaches,
or misunderstandings. George is in the middle of it all, his mounting fear of death and anxiety mirroring the growing tumult around him as his family struggles to find their footing and resolve their own individual problems. A Spot of Bother seems an apt title for the novel in more ways than one.
Haddon’s simple prose and straightforward style of storytelling carry the reader through the novel, even in the less interesting moments. His characters may not be the most likeable in the beginning, for the author does nothing to hide even the biggest of blemishes, but eventually they grow on a reader.
By the end, I found myself hoping for the best for each of them. It is not a happy tale but one fraught with characters who are average and typical and just trying to live their lives as only they know how.
Haddon takes everyday life and lays it bare in the pages of his novel. A Spot of Bother does not stand out as something extraordinary, yet its very ordinariness makes it a novel worth reading.