A Spot of Bother
First edition (UK)
Jonathan Cape (UK)
|August 31, 2006|
|Preceded by||The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time|
A Spot of Bother is the second adult novel by Mark Haddon, who is best known for his prize-winning first novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Like Curious Incident, A Spot of Bother examines mental health issues from the perspective of the patient.
An excerpt from A Spot of Bother (at that point titled Blood and Scissors) was published in the book New Beginnings, the proceeds from which were donated to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
The novel follows George Hall, a 57-year-old hypochondriac, and his family following George's retirement from a career manufacturing playground equipment. George has hypochondria, an excessive phobia for one's physical health. Certain that a skin lesion on his hip is a fatal cancer, George ignores the doctor's diagnosis of eczema and attempts to remove the area with a pair of scissors. The resulting blood loss nearly kills him, and the bloodied handprints he smears around the house in its aftermath horrify his wife Jean.
George and Jean's children confront problems of their own. Daughter Katie, a single mother, announces her plans to marry Ray, a dependable but lower-class man of whom George, Jean, and their son Jamie disapprove. As the story progresses Ray worries that Katie wants to be with him only for his house and so he can act as a father to her five-year-old son Jacob. It is only when Katie visits George in the hospital that she realizes she and Ray are meant to be together: she proposes to Ray herself, and the couple rearrange the wedding. Meanwhile Jamie has an uneasy relationship with his boyfriend Tony. When Jamie fails to pass on to Tony an invitation to Katie's wedding, Tony leaves him. Jamie's problems prey increasingly on George's mind.
George begins to suffer from extreme panic attacks, which worsen after he discovers that Jean is having an affair with David, his former colleague. To distract himself from this terrible new insight George occupies himself with other pursuits, as his slow decline into dementia continues.
The story ends with George telling Jean that he is not as offended as she thinks he is about her secret love affair. The two end the novel returning to a comfortable atmosphere and an ordinary, settled household.
The book received mixed reviews. Michael Dirda of The Washington Post called the book "superbly entertaining", adding "...half the time while reading A Spot of Bother you won't be sure whether to laugh or cry. Which is, I suppose, precisely the point." David Kamp of The New York Times wrote that the book “serves as a fine example of why novels exist." 
Mindy Laube of Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald was critical of the book, writing "while the characterisation can't be faulted, A Spot of Bother fails to fulfil its early promise. What initially shapes up as a disquietingly soft stab in the human heart turns obvious and formulaic. Haddon's examination of the contours of love is forensic in its insight but a sentimental undertow proves too alluring to resist." Patrick Ness of The Guardian criticized the book for being "unsurprising." It is, he writes, "never less than pleasurable to read and there are good jokes and funny situations; it's just that it never tries to be much more than good jokes or funny situations." Ness concludes his review by saying "It's not that this is a bad book - it isn't. It's amusing and brisk and charming. But readers could be forgiven for wanting - and expecting - more." 
References in pop culture
- The spine of the book is seen on a library cart in the 2011 American feature film Thor.
- A Spot of Bother (2009) at the Internet Movie Database
- Dirda, Michael (September 17, 2006). "Michael Dirda". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
- Kamp, David (September 17, 2006). "David Kamp on A Spot of Bother". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-27.
- Laube, Mindy (October 14, 2006). "A Spot of Bother". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
- Ness, Patrick (August 26, 2006). "Patrick Ness on A Spot of Bother". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-10-27.