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BOOK REVIEW: A SPOT OF BOTHER
BY MARK HADDON

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"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The famous opening sentence of Tolstoy's ANNA KERENINA kept running through my mind as I read Haddon's latest - but don't jump to the conclusion that this is a heavy read, a classic read, or a book which will quickly put you to sleep. Quite the contrary.

George Hall is newly retired. He spends his time puttering around building a small workshop for himself in the back yard. He self diagnoses a small patch of eczema as terminal skin cancer. His wife Jean has been having an affair for several years, and has succeeded in covering her absences from home with a part time job and a couple of volunteering commitments. His daughter Katie copes with a stereotypically demanding toddler and plans to marry a somewhat stodgy guy who gets along well with Katie's son. George's son Jamie is gay and still not sure of where he fits in the family constellation. A recent relationship of Jamie's has suddenly gone sour.

Faced with planning Katie's wedding, ordering flowers and food, writing speeches, planning an invitation list and so on, the Halls dissolve into a combination of slapstick comedy and heart tugging pathos.

After several delightful hours with the Halls, I think I would like to take the liberty of paraphrasing Mr Tolstoy. "Each happy family is happy in its own way." For as bumbling as they are as they approach Katie's wedding day and with as many missed attempts at communication as they endure, the Halls are a happy family. It would give away far too much to even try to explain what their shared confusion brings about as the wedding draws near. Haddon alternates between laugh out loud funny and lump in the throat tension. The final scenes at the reception as George delivers his own version of a toast from the father of the bride - fueled by 10 Valium and a cabernet chaser - had me wiping my eyes with a combination of hilarious laughter and sympathetic tears.

Haddon's first book was THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. The reader saw all action through the eyes of an autistic teenager. I marveled at Haddon's skill in developing all other characters when the only voice and point of view was from a boy who had a skewed perception. In his latest, Haddon expands his choices of voice and points of view - all four Hall's share the stage. But one more time Haddon develops a character through other's eyes and does so very very well. Katie's intended husband Ray only appears as seen by others. He is a very appealing, competent, straight forward fellow and I began to long for him to appear on the scene as events spiraled out of control one more time. And in a marvelous pre-wedding dinner alone with Katie, the romantic needy loving soul deep within Ray has a lovely moment in the spotlight.

REVIEWED BY WOODSTOCK

DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE REVIEWER, WOODSTOCK

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