Mark Haddon

A Spot of Bother

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A Spot of Bother Summary

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Mark Haddon’s contemporary novel A Spot of Bother (2006) centers on a hypochondriac consumed by thoughts of his impending death and family dramas. Receiving a positive critical reception, in 2006, the book received a nomination for the Costa Book Award. An award-winning, bestselling British novelist, Haddon writes for both adults and children. He is best known for his debut, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is written from the perspective of a character with Asperger’s. A Spot of Bother is his second novel.

Protagonist George Hall is sixty-one and lives in England with his wife, Jean. Recently retired from a long career manufacturing playground equipment, he is looking forward to a quiet life without any excitement or drama. A standoffish man who doesn’t handle feelings well, he doesn’t pay much attention to Jean.

George spends his time worrying about his health. A hypochondriac, he assumes that every ailment means he’s dying. The only time he feels emotion is when he worries about himself. He knows that Jean is sleeping with another man, and he doesn’t care because it means she leaves him alone. George doesn’t realize that, deep down, he’s very unhappy; he needs excitement in his life once again.

One day, George develops a skin discoloration on his hip. Being George, he assumes it is cancerous. The doctor tells him not to worry; it’s only eczema. George doesn’t accept the diagnosis because the discoloration turns into a lesion. Despite George’s protests, the doctor doesn’t change his diagnosis. George takes matters into his own hands, cutting the lesion away, but he can’t stitch the wound properly, and he bleeds profusely.

Not wanting anyone to know that he cut away the lesion, George grabs a chisel from his workshop in the cellar and pretends that he had an accident. He smears blood around the cellar to make it look like he struggled along the ground and up the stairs. Jean phones for an ambulance and he ends up in the hospital. The doctors see what really happened, but they don’t tell Jean the truth.

After a short stay in the hospital, George returns home. Jean doesn’t fuss over him because she’s too busy sleeping with her secret boyfriend. In the meantime, their daughter, Katie, comes to visit. She announces her engagement to Ray, whom George despises. He is convinced that Ray is not good enough for Katie. Katie doesn’t care what her father thinks; she plans to marry Ray anyway.

Meanwhile, Katie’s brother, Jamie, finds out about the engagement; he doesn’t approve, either. He doesn’t tell his boyfriend, Tony, about the wedding, because the family doesn’t know about Jamie’s homosexuality. He doesn’t feel that it’s appropriate to introduce Tony until his family knows the truth. Tony finds out about the wedding and it hurts his feelings. He breaks up with Jamie, vowing to never speak to him again.

Things get worse when George starts reflecting on his life. He feels that he has wasted his youth and that his life is meaningless. Suffering from intense panic attacks, he doesn’t know how he will get through Katie’s wedding. Jean grows further apart from George, disrespecting him so much that she sleeps with her boyfriend in her marital bed. Though George catches them sleeping together, he doesn’t lose his temper. He suspects that he doesn’t love Jean at all anymore.

At Katie’s wedding, George decides to make a speech. Jamie asks him to sit down and stop making a fool of himself, but George dismisses him. If he can get through the speech facing such a large crowd, then he can handle anything. Taking anti-anxiety medication before he makes his speech, everything goes to plan. His speech is very depressing as he muses on how short life is. Though it isn’t appropriate for a wedding speech, Katie knows it’s important for George to have his say, and so she lets him finish.

The speech fills George with confidence. He confronts Jean’s boyfriend and beats him up. Jean wants to know how George found out about the affair, but she refuses to apologize for it. George regrets that their marriage is over, but he feels they’re too old to divorce and throw away so many years. They agree to stay married but live separate lives.

George decides to focus on the things that make him happy. He goes back to his quiet life, letting Jean get on with her affair. In the meantime, Jamie gets back together with Tony, and Katie settles into married life. George realizes that what he said at the wedding was right. Life is short, and he shouldn’t spend it worrying about his health.