Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: A Spot of Bother

This entry is part 58 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Last week I wrote a blog called ‘Am I Proud?’ in place of two book reviews – one for a book on Screenwriting, one for a book on starting a business.

Well, I say I wrote it last week. Actually, I wrote it this week and edited yesterday, but it was released, so far as you are concerned, last week.

At the time I was happy with the title ‘Am I Proud?’ but funnily enough I think ‘A Spot of Bother’ would have been better.

If only I had nothing to say about this book and could combine it into that post.

But I do.

In fact, this was one of the books I was most excited to get to, but we’ll come to that.

Mark Haddon and Me

Like most people, my experience of Mark Haddon, before reading this book, came from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

I mean, what a book. My girlfriend doesn’t like it, but she must be the only one.

Kids book that it is, I read it in my youth, and don’t remember the finer points now.

What I do remember is how funny it was, and how heartfelt. How well Mark got inside the mind of an autistic boy to tell a story that was original, powerful, moving, while still being accessible to kids.

It must have been one of those books where the author writes them then thinks ‘ah, bollocks, I’m never going to top this.’

Happens to a lot of writers, I reckon.

Take Stephen King for example, who’s written almost 60 novels, ten short story collections and five non-fiction books.

That’s not to mention the screenplays and the countless short stories he’s had published but hasn’t put in his collections.

Yet, ask anyone what their favourite King book is and what will they say?

According to Barnes and Nobel, his best book is The Shining (third book written), according to a Rolling Stone readers poll and BuzzFeed it is The Stand (fourth published if you include King books only, fifth if you include King writing as Bachman, and sixth if you include short story collections),

With Haddon the situation is similar, and in such cases you have to make the most of your hot property, financially speaking.

Obviously a film is the premium, and Haddon hasn’t achieved that. He has, however, got a stage play.

I’ve seen it. Very well done. I particularly like the bit at the train station and, best of all, the fact they bring a real puppy out at the end.

So cute.

But, if most people would say Haddon’s best work is Curious Incident, I stand apart. For me, there is something even better. Even funnier.

And it’s called…

A Spot of Bother

As usual, I cannot remember when I picked up this book, or why, or even why I didn’t read it all the way through.

Because I didn’t, the first time. I got about a quarter of the way in, then stopped.

Maybe not even that far.

I remember talking to my dad about it, and him remembering clearly the scene where George, one of the main characters, cuts something off his leg he believes to be a lesion.

That was enough to put him off, and it is pretty gruesome.

But I don’t remember when that conversation came, and it won’t be why I put the book down.

Sometime later (weeks, months, years) I picked up the book and started again, this time finishing it.

As has been established, it was this read through the inspired the writing of my own debut novel – Poor Choices.

That was released in 2017 and started the year before, so I guess I read A Spot of Bother in 2016 sometime.

And loved it. Loved it enough that when it came to this challenge, I was excited to read it again, even though it was only a couple of years later.

And I loved it again.

But what did I love about it?

The Humour

First and foremost, it made me laugh.

The Independent on Sunday called it “a witty and subtle family drama” and I couldn’t agree more.

The comedy, if this makes sense, is both subtle, and laugh out loud.

The aforementioned scene in which George performs self-surgery in the bath, then tries to call an ambulance as he loses quite a lot of blood, had me rolling around laughing, and there were several other points in the book I wanted to read a couple more times, just to wring all the laughter out of them.

But, even when the book isn’t being laugh out loud funny, it’s humorous all through, and keeps a constant smile on your face.

There aren’t many books that can claim that, but with A Spot of Bother, Haddon nails it.

The Story

What makes the humour even better is that it’s appended to a proper story.

A lot of books out there get by without having a decent story because they’re so funny.

Not so with A Spot of Bother.

I don’t want to rely exclusively on paper reviews but The Times pretty much nails it when it describes the novel as “a painful, funny, humane novel: beautifully written, addictively readable.”

Because that’s exactly right.

The story is set around the planning and hosting of Katie’s wedding as her father, George, goes mad from the fear he is dying, her mother tries to balance wedding planning with her affair and her brother, Jamie, loses his boyfriend after failing to invite him to said wedding.

Throughout, the story compliments the comedy and the comedy compliments the story, while both element are carried by

The Cast

Told through very short chapters that bounce between the four cast members (mentioned above) the story never fails to delight.

George is the best character, given the funniest lines and story, but none of them let the side down. I found myself equally engaged by each of the four characters, and hoping all would come right in the end for each of them.

That’s the real talent here. When I wrote Poor Choices, the hardest part of it was balancing four characters. Making each of them distinctive, and likeable, and worthwhile.

I hope I managed it but Haddon definitely did and, while I’m sure it wasn’t easy, the real talent is he made it look as though it was.


If you asked me what my favourite book was I’d probably say American Psycho, and that it used to be The Outsiders.

Both of which are incredible books that have little in common other than that I don’t actually own either of them anymore as a physical copy. (I used to own The Outsiders, don’t know what happened to it – I still have American Psycho as an eBook.)

But, if you ask me for my favourite book that I own I would have to say…

Hang on, let me have a quick check…

Yep, I would have to say it is A Spot of Bother, probably followed by Big Little Lies, probably followed by one of the Harlen Coben Myron Bolitar books or maybe one of the Diamond Brothers books.

My point is if you want a laugh, and don’t mind books that have no magic or murder in them (and don’t mind a scene in a bath where a man cuts himself open) then why not give this one a try?

I’ll leave that with you.

Next Time

We’re taking a break from Man vs Bookshelf in my next blog for the next stage of my How to Win at Authoring series.

This time it’s a lesson on preparing your book for publishing.

After that we’ll be back for Man vs Bookshelf and this time it’s a book that contains both murder and magic (sort of).

It’s Matthew Parker detective novel, The Black Angel by John Connolly.

See you for that.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Stress and SoccernomicsMan vs Bookshelf: Word Count & The Good Guy >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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