A Spot of Bother
At fifty-seven, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels, listening to a bit of light jazz. Then Katie, his tempestuous daughter, announces that she is getting remarried, to Ray. Her family is not pleased – as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has ‘strangler’s hands’. Katie can’t decide if she loves Ray, or loves the way he cares for her son Jacob, and her mother Jean is a bit put out by the way the wedding planning gets in the way of her affair with one of her husband’s former colleagues. And the tidy and pleasant life Jamie has created crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded nuptials.
Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind.
A Spot of Bother follows an ordinary British family through a marriage, a breakup, an affair and a breakdown. Having recently retired, George finds a lump on his hip, and becomes convinced that the lump is cancerous. From this moment, he goes on a downward spiral into madness. Faced with frequent thoughts about his own mortality, his actions become increasingly strange. While this is happening in George’s troubled mind, his daughter is planning her wedding to a man who may not the ‘The One’, his wife is having an affair with his old colleague and his son is struggling to come to terms a failed relationship.
Haddon’s description of George’s descent into madness is stark and unsettling, while everything that goes on around George is comfortingly familiar to real life. Although the characters and events of the novel seem dramatic and exaggerated, it is obvious that this stems from realistic character traits and stories. One particular incident is described so vividly that I found myself physically cringing and wincing while reading.
The short chapters of this book make it very easy to read, but also very hard to stop reading. Don’t start this book unless you have a weekend free, or at least make sure that you don’t have to up very early the next day.