Friday, 6 March 2009

A Spot Of Bother

By Mark Haddon



This is the same bloke who wrote 'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time' which I read four or five years ago and although I don't remember much about it, I do remember enjoying it. I wish I could say the same for this book, especially because the book was given to me by Pony Girl.

Self-loathing and self-obsessed middle class tossers getting agitated about stuff. That's kind of it.

I wouldn't have one character from this book over for tea.

It's all based around the extended Hall family and the build-up to the daughter's (second) wedding. There's the daughter herself who's a rotten bitch, her son from a previous marriage who talks way too well for a kid in a nappy, her husband-to-be who has nothing going for him except money, the gay son who's a prat, the infedelious bitch-mother and her hairy lover, and poor old Dad, George, who is going insane. He's the main character and perhaps the only one I had any pity for, because at least insanity is a reason and/or excuse for self-mutilation. The rest have no excuse, and if I was meant to feel empathy towards any of them (which I think I was supposed to) then either I failed the author, or the author failed me.

To be clear on this, 'bitch-mother' and 'gay prat' are just my summations. I think Haddon genuinely expected us (the readers) to like these people. But in my mind, they were a bunch of cunts and I was hoping that the last chapter had a line like, "And anyway, a plane crashed into the wedding and they all died except George."

This orgy of neuroses and self-loathing is not for me. It's for people who get it. It's for the people who are like that... who can't make up their mind, commitment-phobes, and yet at the same time they are ubermensches, narcissicsts, and also happen to be paranoid... who in any situation will first establish an esacpe route just in case, the people who play their cards close to their chest and will not or cannot express themselves for (unfounded) fear of retaliation - the people who say nothing at the exact time they should be communicating. They are the people that will love this book, because the Hall family is their template.

At least Token Gay had a small epiphany "... it occurred to him that there were two parts to being a better person. One part was thinking about other people. The other part was not giving a toss about what other people thought." Though we had to wait until page 406 for this twat to turn, and what totally shat me is that his ex-boyfriend, who should have known better, rewarded Pratboy by magically coming back into his life.

In my experience, epiphanies aren't about righting old mistakes, they're about ensuring they don't happen again.

**

Haddon's writing style annoyed me too.

"Of course there were times when she worried. That Katie would never get a decent job. Or fall pregnant by accident."

What's with the fullstops?

He also does a Peter Carey.

"Aiden bawled Katie out... she resigned. And Patsy cried because people were shouting."

'Aiden' and 'Patsy' were never mentioned before that paragraph, and never mentioned again. I call it a 'Peter Carey' because he starts chapters with lines like "The blue jar was on the top shelf." What blue jar? Would it kill you to write, "A blue jar..."? Oh that's right, it's called writing.

But in this book's defence, it was a page-turner. The chapters were mostly very short - two or three pages would be an average, so the scenes were all like vignettes and because they jumped character to character I found myself having to keep reading so as I could get to what happened next. But it was page-turning in the same way Home & Away possibly is (I've never seen it). You watch four episodes in a row, and you have to find out what happens next.

The book was... engaging. I'll give it that.

I didn't hate the book as much as I hated the characters in it.

D.

*

Pony Girl is gone now. Not out of the country yet, but gone nonetheless. I'm a little shattered, and fragile. By jesus I loved that girl.

My family happen to be cracking up somewhat as well (maybe that's why the book resonated so negatively... we're all helping each other, and yet the family in the book were all too self-obsessed to particularly care about one another), I'm work-busy, and I'm lovesick as all Hell.

I'm about 6 books behind on this blog, so be prepared for a few entries. I find it good therapy to rant to strangers, thinly disguising my tantrums as art criticism.

18 comments:

squib said...

I've never read 'The Curious Incident...' book. For a long time I thought I had but I was getting confused with another dog book, 'Archimedes and the Seagle'

I'm sorry that things are a bit shithouse at the moment

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Fuck, I hate Peter Carey.

Almost as much as I hate Tim Winton.

Families, eh!

Andy Pants said...

Peter Carey is terrible! Why do people read that man? Or give him awards? Or even publish him? The English teacher leant me Oscar and Lucinda. And I actually finished the damn thing. And it summed up everything I hate about Australian writing. Rambling prose, random swearing, long-winded descriptions of scenery at the expense of plot and the overwhelming bleakness of it all. Fuck! And the grammatical errors. Or should I say the punctuation errors. They were everywhere!

Melba said...

You make me laugh Perseus. I love it, a blue jar!

Sorry to hear you're a bit fragile, yes families and love can be difficult.

I welcome your lovesick rants, because they always have something else to offer as well.

I liked early Peter Carey, Illywhacker I remember liking, and Bliss, but I was a lot younger. I should re-read them to see them now. I agree re Winton.

Perseus said...

They're not totally shithouse Squib, but thanks. I'm fine... I just have a few family members kind of losing it and my role in the family is, as it always has been, the sturdy normal one that has to fix things. I'm happy to be that person, but 'cos I'm being a big sook about Pony Girl and work just happens to be full-on, I'm not playing my role well enough. Things will be righted soon enough though.

Yep, Carey sucks. Good diatribe there Andy. I also read O&L to the end, now fully understanding why I put myself through the pain. He wrote one great short story about a girl who collected dolls, and that's about all I ever liked. I liked the movie 'Bliss' but not the book. I couldn't finish Illywhacker.

But as for Winton... I really liked Cloudstreet. There. I said it. My cred may go out the window, but I must be honest about these things.

But I don't think either should be at the top of the heap of current Aussie authours. I put Tsoilkas, Turner-Hospital, Castro and Hartnett above them.

Perseus said...

I also read O&L to the end, now fully understanding why I put myself through the pain

...not fully understanding, I mean.

Melba said...

Funny, I liked Cloudstreet for a few pages and then couldn't finish. Dirt Music is the only one of his I've finished but I don't know, it didn't have enough heart for me.

Hartnett? There's something about her I don't like. Probably her success. There was also a quote from her in a paper recently which made her sound very up herself.

I've got Dead Europe somewhere, haven't gotten to it. Didn't he write the Slap? Is that good? Sounded a bit "pop-fic" to me.

Do you rate Garner or is she hated in these here parts?

Cath said...

I dislike Garner on principle. Lame but it works for me. As for Mr Winton - I have read Cloudstreet and Dirt Music, and liked them up to a point. I find that he writes beautifully - but then doesn't seem to know how to end them. Dirt Music lost me in the end. Haddon's first book was fantastic, but "Spot" was strange. I concur Pers - no likeable characters. They engaged me, but only because I mostly wanted to slap them.

PS *Hugs* to you

Melba said...

The principle being what Cath? That whole First Stone thing?

Cath said...

lol. Yes.

Melba said...

It is lame. What do you think of her writing? That's what I asked. Not about her the person.

Perseus said...

I haven't read enough Garner to have an opinion. I did read The First Stone and thought it sucked. I was too busy disliking her approach to spend the time concentrating on her writing style.

I didn't like the movie Monkey Grip either (good soundtrack but) but that may not be Garner's fault.

Her daughter Alice is HOT. A+ for her breeding skills.

Melba said...

Hmmm. You see I like her. Why did you think First Stone sucked? I've been in conversations with people who have bagged her re that "scandal" and they haven't even read the book. I liked the First Stone, didn't mean I agreed with any of it, and I've enjoyed reading her other books too. It's funny how everyone started hating on her. I've always loved her writing, fiction and non-fiction. The whole First Stone backlash against her I found quite amusing. I'll probably get stoned for even saying that.

She writes beautiful prose. Do we have to like the people whose writing we admire? I've heard people say Hemingway was a bastard. Yes, he married some women, and had affairs etc and was probably cruel. But do we shit on his writing because of that? I would have figured most writers/artists are possibly a little difficult/unlikeable? Because they live in their own heads and have to be selfish to try and get their stuff done.

I'd be interested to hear what others think. Sorry for long comment.

Perseus said...

She presented First Stone as a kind of journalism, though of course with a personal touch. It was a like a massive opinion piece, which is fine, but she should have declared the fictional parts - namely, that the several women she interviewed were in fact one and the same woman. Only after the book was released did she declare that she 'fictionalised' the women/woman. I felt very cheated by this.

Added to that, without access to the actual women at the centre of the scandal, the book came across (to me) as a beat-up.

Hemingway, bastard though he may be, would not have done that.

Melba said...

You don't give her credit for trying to get access to them, so they could tell their side of the story? You think she should have dropped the project? I'm not sure that creating an amalgam from more than one person and presenting as one person is fiction'ing. Isn't it perhaps working with what you've got and maybe trying, in that case, to protect identity?
Also, why is just presenting the man's side of the story in that instance not valid on its own considering the girls wouldn't speak to her? And including her own reflections on the "case" - not worth exploring? I don't remember it reading as an opinion piece, but it's ages since I read it. I do remember her agonising over the whole thing in parts and revealing a lot of self-doubt and confusion, which I thought was admirable for her to include. It made her vulnerable, by my reading.

myninjacockle said...

Hi Perseus,

I loved 'curious incident' and Haddon's poetry collection 'the talking horse and the sad girl and the village under the sea' but yeh, this sounds pretty bad. Maybe like Carey he is also hit and miss?

Tim Winton is a genious though, apart from The Riders obviously.

Hard to comment, not having read it and all, but I get really annoyed by these British books in which everyone has these family dilemas as the main source of crisis in their lives - but no-one ever actually seems to have a job. What's with that?

Lewd Bob said...

I like Carey. I think Winton says 'dunny' and 'fart' much too frequently. Malouf's ok. White's Voss (the only White I've read to my shame) was fucking terrific.

Melba said...

I think we're ready for another post, Persey. Me and brother Bob are being very patient.

You can include the footy somehow if you want?

Thanks.