Monday, June 25, 2007

'A Spot of Bother' by Mark Haddon

25 June 2007

It wasn't to everyone's liking and was sometimes painfully honest to read but, for me, one of the best novels of recent years was 'The Corrections' by Jonathan Franzen. This tale of two aging parents and their grown-up children impressively showed you the irresolvably opposing points of view of each of the main characters in a way that made you simultaneously sympathise with all of them - painfully demonstrating the irreconcilable tensions within families. Mark Haddon's new novel 'A Spot of Bother' pulls off a similar trick in a much lighter vein. Haddon was, rightly, much praised for his previous novel 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' - a highly distinctive, wonderful book - if you haven't read it please do so now! It was always going to be difficult for him to follow this success and 'A Spot of Bother' had mixed reviews but I really enjoyed it. Inevitably, it is a very different - and much more conventional, novel, but it is extremely enjoyable and very funny. Like 'The Corrections', 'A Spot of Bother' deals with aging parents and their grown-up children. It is written in the third person but each chapter takes the point of view of one of the four principal characters - often showing us the same events from a different angle. But this is 'The Corrections' as it might have been written by Nick Hornby - an entertaining, page-turning, easy read in an English middle-class setting with some great comic set-pieces. Like Hornby or David Lodge, Mark Haddon has the ability to address difficult and complex subjects through deceptively 'lightweight' prose - never feeling the need to show-off its cleverness and dealing with dark subjects without making them unbearably bleak. And on top of all this the book is set in what is, for me, familiar territory. With Marina Lewycka's 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian', are we seeing the beginning of a new genre of 'Peterborough fiction'?



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