I came across this book because I had read another book by the same author, Mark Haddon. He is most well known for his earlier book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I loved back in 2018 when I first read it. I plan to go back and reread it sometime soon because I am obsessed with Mark Haddon's writing style. Anyway, A Spot of Bother is probably in my top 5 favorite books that I have read in 2019. The story did not disappoint at all, and I’m so glad I found it at a thrift shop for $1.
This book kinda checks all the boxes for me—melancholy, funny, poetic, and the main character is a British grandpa.
Basic Plot Summary
I think that it’s hard to summarize this story because it is told from several different perspectives, and there are really four main characters. But overall, the story is about a family and an upcoming wedding. Each family member lives a life that is a little messy and chaotic for various reasons. The chaos finds its root in the Hall family (the main characters of this book). The family—like most families—is not great at communicating, and each family member has needs that are going unmet. This family is on the verge of a breakdown when they suddenly find themselves thrown into planning a wedding for their daughter, who can't make up her mind.
George, an elderly recent retiree, is fighting anxiety and mental illness while worrying that he’s dying of cancer. Jean, his wife, is having an affair with her husband’s ex-coworker. Katie, his daughter, is having second thoughts about marrying her fiancé. Jamie, his son, gets dumped and has no one to talk to about his heartbreak.
The story progresses as you follow the characters through their various struggles, leading up to the wedding.. I’ll let you find out how they all end up when you read it for yourself.
What I Loved About The Book
First, I really loved the setting. It’s set in England, and it jumps from London to Peterborough. It’s a modern timeframe, probably around 2004. I learned a lot about typical English vocabulary and phrases that are slightly different from American English. I loved seeing the depth to the title of this book—it takes on several meanings in this story.
Second, I loved the characters because of how relatable they were in different ways to me. George and Jamie were my favorites, and I loved how their relationship changes throughout the book. I found a way to relate to all of the characters though, which makes this story even more special to me.
Third, I loved that the story wasn’t too far fetched—I could actually envision this happening to a real family. I tend to love stories and books that feel very real, raw, and honest (which I’ve found in all of Mark Haddon’s work). I think that appreciating and writing about the ordinary is important, special, and overall more relatable to the general audience. It’s nice to read something that is more average, rather than someone with super powers, great wealth, or the perfect love story.
Fourth, I loved that a big theme of this book was human connection and the power of love. This book taught that even though you may feel isolated and misunderstood, you can’t let yourself be closed off without asking for help. People (generally) are willing to help share your burdens if you’ll just let yourself open up and decide to heal.
I appreciate that Mark Haddon writes from perspectives and from characters that are unique and never overdone. He has done a great job of calling attention to the importance of mental health and people with different mental capacities, which I have found really eye-opening and educational. It's fun to be inside the head of characters that think differently than you.
“Maybe the answers weren’t important. Maybe it was the asking which mattered. Not taking anything for granted. Maybe that’s what stopped you growing old.”
“He’d bided his time. He’d got away. He’d built a little world in which he felt safe. And it was orbiting far out, unconnected to anyone. It was cold and it was dark and he had no idea how to make it swing back toward the sun.”
Both of these quotes really spoke to me, and I found areas in my life and my behaviors that need to change because of reflecting on these quotes. That’s one of the reasons I love reading—it allows you to ask yourself new questions through the eyes and perspective of a character. A safe space for growth and processing.
I highly recommend reading this. If I had to choose my favorite (and very specific) genre, it would be this kind of story. It can be narrowly classified as British Domestic Fiction. This book is overall a realistic, modern day, ordinary story about living through this life and learning how to practice love in healthy ways. It’s an easy and quick read—one that I’ll be rereading throughout my life.
Sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy A Spot of Bother.