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Dear Thursday: A SPOT OF BOTHER by Mark Haddon [Book 26 of 2010]

So my book-a-week challenge was supposed to be done at 25 books, but a funny thing happened on the way to finishing it. I discovered that I didn’t want it to end. I’ve truly enjoyed being back in the reading habit, and I really can’t think of any reason not to keep it going. So here’s hoping that I make it to 52 books by New Year’s Eve, First up in the resurrected challenge: A SPOT OF BOTHER by Mark Haddon.

Why I Decided To Read It: This was another Altadena library shelf find. I just adored Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME, so I snapped this audiobook up when I found it.

What It’s About: A British family, which consists of a retired stiff-upper-lipped dad, a bored-and-cheating mother, a gay son, and a divorced, single-mother daughter who announces at the the front of the book that she’s marrying her nice-but-not-particularly-bright boyfriend — everyone in the family thinks she can do better, but are mostly too polite to say so. The story revolves around her nuptials.

What Makes It Different: This book is so British, it’s comical, but at the same time it manages to go deep into the hearts and minds of what could have been stock characters. It’s the literary answer to movies like Father of the Bride.

What I Loved: I loved the moments that happen (sometimes funny, sometimes sad), because no one talks to each other. I found the exploration of dating beneath yourself compelling, as I did the meditation on “loving the one you’re with.”

What I Didn’t Like: The brother’s boyfriend gets short shrift. It felt like we never really knew him. Also, though the book gets good and cracking by the middle, the beginning was so PBS-level boring, that I almost gave up on it after the first CD for fear of falling asleep behind the wheel of my car.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Back up your character quirks with actions. Everyone in this book talks about the daughter having such a huge temper, as opposed to showing her blowing her top. Several conversations are had about how bad this woman can get, but she seems like a perfectly reasonable person and her temper isn’t outsized at all at least not as Haddon’s written her. This is a mistake I occasionally see from writers who are good at showing the story, but not necessarily the character’s personality. You can’t just have your other characters claim that one character is angry, and then not ever show her go off the rails. It’s like me telling you that my baby is vicious while she sits there sweetly playing. You might give me the benefit of the doubt, but you’re not going to believe me unless she actually bites your ankle — which this character never does.

Revolve around a wedding. I found myself thinking that this movie would make a great British indie, just because the novel was structured around a wedding. Weddings make for a great story skeleton because they so natural lend themselves to plot. There’s the announcement of marriage (beginning), the inevitable engaged couple break-up and make-up (the middle), and then the ultimate dramatic question: Will there or won’t there be a wedding (the end).

Take old people seriously. I love that senior citizens are given so much quality air time in this one. The wife is actually desirable to both her husband and her lover. The father doesn’t just happily putter around as the fathers of self-absorbed thirty-somethings tend to do in books. He’s terrified of death and spends most of the book dealing with that terror.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Anglophiles, PBS-watchers, Brides-to-be, and Senior Citizens

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