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. At sixty-one, George Hall is settling down to a comfortable retirement. When his tempestuous daughter, Katie, announces that she is getting married to the deeply inappropriate Ray, the Hall family is thrown into a tizzy. Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. As parents and children fall apart and come together, Haddon paints a disturbing yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
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About the Author
Mark Haddon is the author of the bestselling novels The Red House and A Spot of Bother, and the short story collection The Pier Falls and Other Stories. His novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and is the basis for the Tony Award–winning play. He is the author of a collection of poetry, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, has written and illustrated numerous children’s books, and has won awards for both his radio dramas and his television screenplays. He teaches creative writing for the Arvon Foundation and lives in Oxford, England.
Read an Excerpt
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.”
How good it was to be talking to other people. Them saying something. Him saying something in return. The steady ticktock of conversation. He could have carried on like this all afternoon.
“Are you all right, sir?”
The woman cupped a hand beneath his elbow and he slid downward and sideways onto a chair which felt more solid, more comfortable and more supportive than he remembered any chair ever feeling.
Things became slightly vague for a few minutes.
Then a cup of tea was placed into his hands.
“Thank you.” He sipped. It was not good tea but it was hot, it was in a proper china mug and holding it was a comfort.
“Perhaps we should call you a taxi.”
It was probably best, he thought, to head back to the village and buy the suit another day.
He decided not to mention the incident to Jean. She would only want to talk about it and this was not an appealing proposition.
Talking was, in George’s opinion, overrated. You could not turn the television on these days without seeing someone discussing their adoption or explaining why they had stabbed their husband. Not that he was averse to talking. Talking was one of life’s pleasures. And everyone needed to sound off now and then over a pint of Ruddles about colleagues who did not shower frequently enough, or teenage sons who had returned home drunk in the small hours and thrown up in the dog’s basket. But it did not change anything.
The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely. How anyone could work in the same office for ten years or bring up children without putting certain thoughts permanently to the back of their mind was beyond him. And as for that last grim lap when you had a catheter and no teeth, memory loss seemed like a godsend.
He told Jean that he had found nothing in Allders and would drive back into town on Monday when he did not have to share Peterborough with forty thousand other people. Then he went upstairs to the bathroom and stuck a large plaster over the lesion so that it could no longer be seen.
He slept soundly for most of the night and woke only when Ronald Burrows, his long-dead geography teacher, pressed a strip of duct tape over his mouth and hammered a hole through the wall of George’s chest with a long metal spike. Oddly, it was the smell which upset him most, a smell like the smell of a poorly cleaned public toilet which has recently
been used by a very ill person, heady and curried, a smell, worst of all, which seemed to be coming from the wound in his own body.
He fixed his eyes on the tasseled lampshade above his head and waited for his heart to slow down, like a man pulled from a burning building, still not quite able to believe that he is safe.
He slid out of bed and went downstairs. He put two slices of bread into the toaster and took down the espresso maker Jamie had given them for Christmas. It was a ridiculous gadget which they kept on show for diplomatic reasons. But it felt good now, filling the reservoir with water, pouring coffee into the funnel, slotting the rubber seal into place and screwing the aluminium sections together. Oddly reminiscent of Gareth’s steam engine which George had been allowed to play with during the infamous visit to Poole in 1953. And a good deal better than sitting watching the trees at the far end of the garden swaying like sea monsters while a kettle boiled.
The blue flame sighed under the metal base of the coffeemaker. Indoor camping. A bit of an adventure.
The toast pinged up.
That was the weekend, of course, when Gareth burned the frog. How strange, looking back, that the course of an entire life should be spelled out so clearly in five minutes during one August afternoon.
He spread butter and marmalade on the toast while the coffee gargled through. He poured the coffee into a mug and took a sip. It was hair-raisingly strong. He added milk till it became the color of dark chocolate then sat down and picked up the RIBA Journal which Jamie had left on his last visit.
The Azman Owen house.
Timber shuttering, sliding glass doors, Bauhaus dining chairs, the single vase of white lilies on the table. Dear God. Sometimes he longed to see a pair of discarded Y-fronts in an architectural photograph.
“High-frequency constant-amplitude electric internal vibrators were specified for the compaction, to minimize blowholes and to produce a uniform compaction effort . . .”
The house looked like a bunker. What was it about concrete? In five hundred years were people going to stand under bridges on the M6 admiring the stains?
He put the magazine down and started the Telegraph crossword.
Nanosecond. Byzantium. Quiff.
Jean appeared at seven thirty wearing her purple bathrobe. “Trouble sleeping?”
“Woke up at six. Couldn’t quite manage to drift off again.”
“I see you used Jamie’s whatsit.”
“It’s rather good, actually,” George replied, though, in truth, the caffeine had given him a hand tremor and the unpleasant sensation you had when you were waiting for bad news.
“Can I get you anything? Or are you fully toasted?”
“Some apple juice would be good. Thank you.”
Some mornings he would look at her and be mildly repulsed by this plump, aging woman with the witch hair and the wattles. Then, on mornings like this...“Love” was perhaps the wrong word, though a couple of months back they had surprised themselves by waking up simultaneously in that hotel in Blakeney and having intercourse without even brushing their teeth.
He put his arm around her hips and she idly stroked his head in the way one might stroke a dog.
There were days when being a dog seemed an enviable thing.
“I forgot to say.” She peeled away. “Katie rang last night. They’re coming for lunch.”
“She and Jacob and Ray. Katie thought it would be nice to get out of London for the day.”
Bloody hell. That was all he needed.
Jean bent into the fridge. “Just try to be civil.”
Jean rinsed the stripy mugs and put them onto the rack.
A few minutes later George reappeared in his work clothes and headed down the garden to lay bricks in the drizzle.
Secretly she was rather proud of him. Pauline’s husband started to go downhill as soon as they handed him the engraved decanter. Eight weeks later he was in the middle of the lawn at 3:00 a.m. with a bottle of Scotch inside him, barking like a dog.
When George showed her the plans for the studio it reminded her of Jamie’s plans for that machine to catch Santa Claus. But there it was, at the far end of the lawn, foundations laid, five rows of bricks, window frames stacked under blue plastic sheeting.
Seven or fifty-seven, they needed their projects. Bringing something dead back to the cave. Setting up the Wellingborough franchise. A solid lunch, twenty minutes of playtime and gold stars to show that someone was taking notice.
She unscrewed the espresso maker and a pat of sodden grounds slumped onto the draining board and disintegrated. “Shit.”
She got a disposable cloth wipe from the cupboard.
You’d think they were coming back from Vietnam the way some of them talked about retirement. Not a thought for the wives. It didn’t matter how much you loved someone. Thirty-five years of the house to yourself, then you had to share it with... not a stranger exactly . . .
She would still be able to see David. With her mornings at the primary school and her part-time job at Ottakar’s bookshop in town, it was simple enough to spend a few extra hours out of the house without George noticing. But it had seemed less of a deception when he was working. Now he was having lunch at home seven days a week and some things were far too close to one another.
Luckily he enjoyed having the place to himself, and had precious little interest in what she did when she was elsewhere. Which made it easier. The guilt. Or the lack of it.
She rinsed the grit off the cloth wipe, wrung it out and hung it over the tap.
She was being unkind. The prospect of Katie coming to lunch probably. Him and Ray being polite when they wanted to lock horns and grapple.
George was a decent man. Never got drunk. Never hit her, never hit the children. Hardly ever raised his voice. Only last week she’d seen him drop a monkey wrench on his foot. He just closed his eyes, straightened his back and concentrated, like he was trying to hear someone calling from a very long way away. And only one speeding ticket.
Maybe that was the problem.
She remembered being jealous of Katie when she got together with Graham. Their being friends. Their being equals. George’s face that suppertime when they were talking about the birth. Graham using the word clitoris and George with this forkful of gammon hovering in front of his open mouth.
But that was the trouble with being friends. Graham walks out one day, leaving her to look after Jacob. Which a man like George would never do.
He was right about Ray, though. She wasn’t looking forward to lunch any more than him. Thank God Jamie wasn’t coming. One of these days he was going to call Ray “Mr. Potato-Head” in Katie’s hearing. Or Ray’s. And she was going to be driving someone to hospital.
Half Katie’s IQ and Ray still called her “a wonderful little woman.” Though he did mend the Flymo that time. Which didn’t endear him to George. He was solid, at least. Which was what Katie needed right now. Someone who knew she was special. Someone with a good salary and a thick skin.
Just so long as Katie didn’t marry him.
Reading Group Guide
1. What do you think is the spot of bother of the title? Does every character have a spot of bother, or is it just George?
2. Do you think Katie does love Ray? Was she right to marry him?
3. Why do you think Jean has an affair? Did this affect your feelings towards her character, and George's?
4. Mark Haddon writes about some very serious subjects - mental illness, adultery, prejudice - but often in a humorous way. Would you describe A Spot of Bother as a comedy?
5. Why do you think Jamie tells Ray that he loves Tony before he tells Tony himself?
6. A Spot of Bother includes several pairings of siblings: Jamie and Katie; Becky and Tony; Ray and Martin; Jean and Eileen. Which are the closest? Are any of their relationships similar to your relationship with your siblings?
7. Many of the characters are driven by concerns about loving or being loved by the right people: do you think the characters resolve these issues? Does everyone end up with the right person at the end of the novel?
8. Do you think it's fair to say that A Spot of Bother is a very British novel?
9. Each character has their own issue to deal with: George's illness; Jean's affair; Katie's wedding; Jamie's feelings towards Tony. Who did you feel the most sympathetic towards? Are their problems self-inflicted?
10. What was your favourite moment in the book?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The author deserves credit for taking his writing in a very different direction. The temptation to follow up a critical and popular success with a work of similar style must be great. The only similarity in Mark Haddon's books is originality. This book's central character is a middle-aged, middle class man from middle England. His retirement results in a life crisis that shakes his grip on reality. Each member of his family's reaction to his state, and their various personal crises make up the narrative flow of the novel. The plot is well crafted and reminds me of a comedy of manners, with a very contemporary twist. There are memorably graphic episodes which may be unsettling for some. I trust the author to craft each detail of his work in a way that fully explores the subject at hand.
Don't be put off by the cover - it's quirky and the characters are engaging. Wish I could have gotten it as an audio book - I like the laugh out loud moments it provides.
This is officially my favorite book. Although its a little bit slow at the beginning, Haddon soon engulfs you in the story. I especially enjoyed the character of Tony:)
A friend recommended this to me. His wife is British and he had a strong connection to the way the characters in the book respond to one another. Starts off a bit slow but then you can't stop reading and caring about what happens to each of the characters. Makes your own life feel a bit less complicated in comparison.
I listened to the audio on a recent trip, and Simon Vance did an outstanding job as reader, voicing the different characters in a way that was distinct but not distracting. The story is funny, the characters are engaging, and Mark Haddon's typically British understatements had me laughing out loud on a regular basis. Loved it!
I listened to this book and perhaps that wasn't the best way to experience it. I had read and really liked The Curious Incident in the Night-time by Haddon so I quite looked forward to hearing this. However, the characters just didn't seem as likable; in fact I found them rather whiny.George has recently retired from his job as an executive in a firm that made playground equipment. He intends to return to his love of sketching, drawing and painting but first he decides to build a studio in the garden. Then one day he notices a spot on his hip and goes off the rails. He is convinced it is skin cancer even though his doctor tells him it is eczema. He obsesses about the spot and is sure he is going to die. Meanwhile his daughter has announced that she and her partner are going to get married and they want to have the reception in the back yard. George and his wife and their son all think this is a mistake since her fiance is a builder and not one of "them". Forget that he has been wonderful to her and her young son; forget that he makes good money and has been giving them a place to live; forget that he loves the daughter even though she can be a "right bitch" at times. The son, who is gay, has a lover but he can't decide if he will take him to the wedding. This causes problems in their relationship. George's wife is having an affair with an ex-colleague of George's. And so the story progresses with every one in the family whining about their lot when really they have it pretty good.The book was only redeemed for me by Haddon's dab hand with comedic dialogue and circumstances. I really liked Ray, the daughter's fiance, and Tony, the son's lover, but the rest of the main characters left me cold. Oh well, you can't win them all!
A story about a dysfunctional family told through each of their points of view. I liked the fact that the story was told from different characters view points, but overall I think this book dragged on. The characters were interesting and their stories were as well, but I just wasn't engaged by the story as a whole.
A somewhat depressing account of a dysfunctional family where well-mannered appearances soon disintegrate into hopeless despair. Haddon's cynical sense of humour helps the story from sinking into morosity. The plot takes a turn at the end into a full fledged farce which is refreshing. All is well that ends well, but perhaps too lightly for such serious problems. The moral is clear but the zeitgeist completely unresolved.
This book is hilarious. I laughed out loud so many times I think my boyfriend thought I was going insane. It's basically a family drama where everyone makes bad choices and then has to try to save themselves later, with much of the final resolution happening at the daughter's wedding at the end. If you have a family that you think is crazy (who doesn't?), you'll enjoy this book.If you're looking for something similar to "The Curious Incident," you won't find it here, but you will be entertained.
An ordinary family, coping with love, loss and a nervous breakdown. Told from multiple viewpoints, the story explores the build-up to a wedding and the problems faced in the relationships within and beyond the family of four who are at its core.The insight into the decay of George's mental health is very touching. I also found Jamie's point of view intriguing, as a gay man who is unsure about whether his parents are comfortable with his sexuality. I was least convinced by Jean and Katie, the female characters. Katie just seems to be angry all the time, while Jean seems remarkably oblivious to the problems that her husband, George, is experiencing.There are both gay and straight sex scenes in this book - but only the former are described in any detail. This makes the novel feel lop-sided to me.
funny. sad. so true to life. one screwed up family. loved it.
I was disappointed in this book
I am enjoying this quite a bit. Same guy who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I also liked very much.
A few years ago, I read and enjoyed The Curious Incident... by the same author. I was a bit apprehensive about this one, fearing that it might be "more of the same" but luckily that was not the case at all. And yet we do have another troubled family here, with lots of misunderstandings and frailties, and a reasonably optimistic ending, a well written book, with characters that really come to life. I did enjoy it but parts of it did not really ring true for me (where George begins to lose his mind i.e.), and I think in a few months it will have left only a very faint impression - while The Curious Incident is still very fresh in my mind. ¿
Whinging and whining boomers aren't appealing in real life or fiction ... but the family dynamics (crazy as they are) make it an entertaining read
This book is fantastic. Mark Haddon has written a story about real people and lives and the way we behave and treat each other. Absolutely brilliant.
This is a fun read. It is all very over-the-top but it is an absolute page turner from beginning to end. For me, it didn't match The Curious Incident... but it gave me a couple of days of great entertainment.
Haddon provides amusing insight into a retired man's breakdown. Compellingly illustrating distorted logic and its consequences in your average, middle class, dysfunctional English family.
I love Mark Haddon's clear style of writing. also really liked the sometimes very short chapters. It felt a bit like a child observing. I thought the descriptions of panic, and the anxiety disorder in George was excellent. The way he talks about the floor sliding away almost gave me vertigo. I think this makes me sound like a horrible person, but I didn't really like any of the characters though - with the exception of Ray (and maybe Jacob). Everyone else seemed incredibly self centred. I imagine Kate as having a 'face you wouldn't get tired of punching' as they say up my way. What a horror! Jamie tried to redeem himself late in the book, but I just don't feel much sympathy for grown ups who behave like children¿ as if they have a 'right' to be happy and indulge themselves. Great book though, and great choice¿. you can tell it exercised me!
Fans of "A Curious Incident..." might be disappointed in this book, because it is a different book. If approached with an open mind, and no prior conceptions, "A Spot of Bother" is a rewarding read.
This was a long book, but in a lot of ways quite short: short chapters, very short paragraphs, short snappy wit. And it¿s an easy read ¿ fairly whizzes by in a whirl of choc ices, nursery rhymes, Valium and sex. About halfway through I did get a bit confused as the plot became convoluted and at one point someone got punched in the face and despite rapid re-reading of earlier sections I could not fully understand why. Around about chapter 56 I began to wonder how many times Jamie needed to state that he had `f***ed up¿ before we were deemed to have got the message, and some of the touchy-feely stuff got dangerously toe-curling. It reminded me of a cake that comes out of the oven to all intents and purposes perfectly risen, it¿s only when you slice it and the middle is a bit gooey that you think, actually it¿s not perfect after all. It¿s an enjoyable read overall though, and it keeps the laughs coming thick and fast. Only when the mental breakdown storyline cranks up does it start feeling slightly darker (and inappropriate to be laughing). There is serious stuff amongst the wit, but it is the wit that I will remember.
You need a British sense of humor to really appreciate this book. It is funny, crazy, frustrating, and thought provoking all at once. The characters are all crazy--George most of all. Just about all the things that define a dysfunctional family are rolled into this single family. It starts a bit slowly, picks up speed and finally crashes to an ending. Haddon has a knack for making his characters believable while being completely beyond the pale.
A great story of family life, and how an illness can start ripping holes in the thin fabric that people put over it. The characters all grow on you, and you start feeling for each of them as the tale unfolds. I laughed, through a lot of it, whilst some of georges trials can also make you sad. very nicely weaved, and a great ending when everything finally comes together.
In 'A Spot of Bother', much like "The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time' before it, Mark Haddon masterfully humanizes illness while simultaneously elucidating the illness of humanity in general.
We begin ASOB as an outsider peering in on George Hall - a middle-aged man basically losing his mind - who seems definitely not right.
He's going crazy, no doubt, but the story slowly crescendos to this wacky menagerie of physical and social ills so that its not clear where poor George's madness leaves off and the hysteria of the situation that surrounds him begins.
And Haddon so expertly dons the skin of this character - every word, every incident reads true - that somewhere along the way, as the story unfolds, you've crossed the boundary between outside and inside and suddenly well, he's just not SO crazy anymore.
Sheer pandemonium... and pure pleasure to read.
I was under impressed with "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time", and felt it was over hyped. (What is it with the main characters being disabled translating into accolades for the author? Like the Academy Awards, I think that doing the splashy is over rewarded while doing the more subtle is under appreciated. Anyway..)This book more than makes up for the time I spent reading "The Curious..." The characters are subtle, struggling folks trying to keep a grip on themselves and their relationships in a rapidly changing world. This book is also absurd, funny, touching and goofy. I loved it.