Haddon tells the story of an ordinary English family – two parents and their grown children. All of their lives and relationships dissolve into a mess and some start breaking down, all at the same time. George, the father, thinks he has cancer and slowly slides towards madness. His wife has an affair. His divorced daughter is due to get remarried but is now getting cold feet. His son is gay (which George has some trouble with) and has commitment issues.
The result of all this is an understated (very English) melodramatic comedy. It’s funny, I guess, but the whole book just feels so ordinary. Families breaking down, midlife crises, failing relationships… it has all been done before. It’s just ordinary people doing ordinary things. To quote one reviewer on Amazon, “The power of the novel comes from the fact that everyone reading it will surely be able to identify some aspect of their own behaviour or that of someone they know or have known.” Sort of like soap operas, then, I guess. But if I wanted to see aspects of my own behaviour or that of someone I know, all I’d have to do is look up from the keyboard. I don’t need a book for that. I want books to give me something different from the everyday.
Where Haddon’s first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which I cannot help comparing A Spot of Bother to), told an unusual story from an interesting perspective, this one has nothing new in it. There are no surprises. The issues are not even explored with any kind of insight, just cheerfully and superficially reported. There’s even the predictable rose-tinted happy ending where all the “right” relationships are mended and all the “wrong” ones ended. Curious Incident had freshness, intensity and vigour, while this book is pleasant and perfectly bland. It makes me think of Hollywood romantic comedies (not that I’ve seen that many, to be honest – I guess it makes me think of my prejudices about Hollywood romantic comedies). And perhaps a movie contract is what he’s got in mind?
OK for light summer reading but not really worth wasting much time on.
Amazon UK, Amazon US.