A Spot of Bother (Vintage) - Mark Haddon

~~Moved from GR: down to 10/290!~~


A Spot of Bother

by Mark Haddon


I picked up A Spot of Bother because of the delicious understatement of a title; it reminded me a bit of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and I'm an Anglophilic sucker for that form of humour.  To me, it feels like a very British, dark-comedic version of The Sound and the Fury. If you enjoyed that Southern classic, then I'd definitely give this a try.  Unfortunately, neither one were precisely to my taste. It has a large number of similarities with Faulkner's book: like a gentler The Sound and the Fury, it is the story of a dysfunctional family which slowly and agonizingly falls apart and rebuilds itself into something new. It is told from the perspectives of several of the key members of the family, although in this case, it is limited third person perspective rather than first person. At least one of the narrators is not mentally sound. And again, one might consider that most of the emphasis surrounds the marriage of the daughter of the family, although fortunately, incest is not one of the themes here. Unfortunately, though the tale is certainly told--often by people I considered to be idiots--with sound and fury leavened by humour, for me, it too signified nothing.

I'm not much of one for literary fiction; I think I am so used to mystery that I expect a very structured narrative, so maybe my disappointment is simply due to this mismatch.  I felt the same dissatisfaction I experienced when reading The Sound and the Fury: the characters start out as a set of rather unpleasant, unlikeable, selfish people, do their best to make each other absolutely miserable--in this case, often for comedic effect--and eventually troop off the stage without having gained even a smidgeon of self-insight. For me, the phalanx of limited third person perspectives did the story a disservice. That additional layer of separation and dispassion let me hear the characters' selfish, vindictive thoughts without feeling, comprehending, or empathizing with the emotions behind them. This culminated in a rather curious effect: I ended by liking and empathizing only with a subset of characters whose perspective I did not experience. I think the story was meant to be profound as well as humorous, but for me, any profundity felt forced and any humour was tainted and stultified by the human misery it stemmed from. Not quite my cup of tea; however, I think readers who enjoy the family drama will appreciate this dark, ironic addition to the genre.