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1st January
2009
written by Steph
Why bother?  Don't.

Why bother? Don't.

Oh bother.  Mark Haddon is probably best known for his book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (which is a really great book, and if you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you do, because it is highly probable that you will like it.  Also, it is vastly superior to this less than awesome book.).  Based on the strength of that novel (and a debut novel at that!), I picked up his second offering, A Spot of Bother.  I am sad to report that this was a mistake. A Spot of Bother is kind of about a nuclear family that has drifted apart and the trials and tribulations they face in their day-to-day lives independently as well as collectively, but I really felt the central focus was on the father in the family and his gradual descent into madness.  In traditional Haddon style, the chapters are very short, and each one follows a smidgen of one of the character’s tale through his or her eyes.  I think this type of storytelling can be done well, but I think it requires slightly longer segments (most of Haddon’s chapters are only 3 to 5 pages at most), because otherwise it just feels like the novel (as well as you, the reader) is suffering from ADD.  Additionally, while this tactic may work as a pageturner for some, I find it a bit tedious, because I inevitably find certain characters more interesting, and therefore find the pages spent on the other characters somewhat tedious and distracting. Actually, tedious is a really good descriptor for this book.  Tiresome would work too.  I made it to page 170 of this book, before a somewhat miserable phonecall to Tony caused the epiphany that even though I was halfway through the book, I really didn’t like it, knew it wasn’t going to get better, and even more critically, I just didn’t care about anyone or anything that was happening.   That, I think, is a bad sign for a book that you are halfway through.  Rather than reading about characters, I felt I was merely getting at caricatures, and not very interesting ones that.  The plot twists, such as they were, were pretty predictable and uninspired.  Furthermore, I found all of the characters really annoying, and a good deal of the action stemmed simply from their inability to communicate and their persistence in behaving in patently foolish ways.  I don’t necessarily believe that characters in a book must be likeable in order for a book to be enjoyable or worthwhile, but I do think that they need to be well drawn and interesting.  These characters were neither of those things.  I didn’t want to know what made them tick, or what motivated them; I just wanted to get the hell away! Also disappointing about the novel is that I felt it had very little wit or cleverness about it (I thought the title was clever, but that was about it).  Additionally, the writing wasn’t very good (to be fair, it wasn’t exactly bad either, but it was very bland and didn’t not seem very thoughtful or well crafted.  I think disposable would be a good adjective here.).  It wasn’t a difficult read in the traditional sense, in that I didn’t feel as though I was giving myself a mental workout, enriching my vocabulary, increasing my working memory load, or tackling complex or sticky topics.  No, it was all just very very boring.  I realized this book was a waste of my time, and as much as the completist in me wanted to finish it, I realized it would only be so that I could say I had done so.  And really, who the heck cares whether I’ve read this novel or not? If you decide to pick this one up and (or have in the past) and find the characters emotionally complex and intriguing, and the writing gives you a few chuckles, more power to you.  Personally, if you want to read a novel that convincingly and compellingly addresses several of the exact same issues (mentally ill parent, family dynamics when children are all grown up, unhappy marriages, complicated and not necessarily squeaky clean people, homosexuality, probably other things that I either can’t recall or didn’t get to yet) as A Spot of Bother, then I would highly recommend you check out Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections instead.  Lord knows that all the while I was toiling away at the fruitless Spot of Bother, I was wishing I were reading Franzen’s novel instead.  Into the "to be sold" pile it goes to be foisted onto some other unsuspecting reader (which we can all safely say is now none of you, dear readers!). This isn’t a bad book, but it’s not really rewarding in any real way, and I think you'd pretty much be better served by reading almost anything else.  I technically abandoned this on New Year’s Eve (well, during the day), so this could be categorized with the 2008 books, but I don’t think it deserves me making the effort to revise everything to do so.  I’ll cheat and consider it an abandoned entry for 2009. Rating: 2 out of 5

4 Comments

  1. 01/03/2009

    Thanks for the review! 🙂

  2. 02/04/2009

    Steph, thanks for this. I’ve been going on and off whether I should read this or not, as I enjoyed The Curious Incident.. but haven’t heard so much about this one.. but glad to have read your thoughts.. now I can relax and stop obsessing whether I should pick it up or not.. I won’t.

    Btw, see with my Red Dog Red Dog post, I felt this way halfway.. when I didn’t care about the characters anymore, but I just finished it to know what would happen in the end.. I really don’t know how to write a negative review when I should haha.

  3. 02/04/2009

    Yeah, this one was a real shame, because I really did adore his previous book. But this one was just so trite and monotonous and I felt there was very little that was insightful here and the humor fell flat. I’ve never looked back since setting this one down (and consequently selling it back to the used bookstore!), and upon deciding to stop reading it, it was though a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders. The last thing I want is for my reading to feel like a burden!
     
    Sometimes if I hate the writing in a book but want to know what will happen I’ll turn to things like Wikipedia to find out the plot so I don’t have to endure the novel itself. I did do this for Spot of Bother, but there wasn’t much to say really, which is hardly surprising since the book is so bland. True story(another one of my guilty confessions): I once rented Citizen Kane because I had never seen it and wanted to know what all of the fuss was about… and I just thought it was so boring. The worst part is, I watched it until there was only 5 minutes remaining, and then gave up! I just turned it off and went to Wikipedia at that point… I couldn’t even make it through 5 more minutes! 😀

  4. 02/04/2009

    LMAO!!! Hahaha!

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