Yes, it would appear I am something of an idiot. Before I had even arrived at New Street station last Tuesday, to connect with my train home, I had realised my mistake. I am not sure how it happened, or when this took place but it would seem I had already read Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother. I have absolutely no memory of this but I damn sure knew what was coming next – how could I not have realised? It doesn’t bode well for the book.
I am just a little confused. When Steve suggested I read it some months back, it didn’t trigger a single ounce of familiarity. Of course I had seen the book strewn on the bathroom floor before, slightly soggy following one of Steve’s steams and yes I had noted its rather well worn spine as I positioned it within my to-read pile, but nothing. Absolutely no recognition at all. And even more worrying, it took three pages for me to realise I had read it before. This had never happened to me before and it felt a little like insanity – clearly a whole chunk of time erased forever from my memory. It sent shivers down my spine!
I don’t tend to forget the experience of reading a book, ok some of the plot and prose may become a little fuzzy, but I could usually tell you exactly where and roughly when I read something. Emotional ties and all that, the sensory experience etc etc etc. But with this, Nada! Niente! All I know is that it must have been at some point in the last four and a half years because that’s how long we’ve owned the house, and I have only ever seen it on this bathroom floor.
It was just so strange though, how suddenly and quite spectacularly a story can come back to you. It was as if an old wardrobe door had swung open to reveal sunshine breeze and all those long lost memories you never quite realised had vanished. I breathed in the story as if I had only closed the pages yesterday. The fact that I had almost completely eradicated its contents is not a good thing really, it tells me something of the connection I made with the book – a limited one.
Perhaps the story of a middle-aged retired man’s break down isn’t really aimed at me? There are some moments of sparkling wit and descriptions which make one wince in shame or disgust – it is Haddon’s use of language and dialogue between characters which keeps this story running, not so much the plot. But the humour also comes from our own engagement with these troubled folk within, its what WE see in our own lives portrayed by the fictional family. There are so many obvious connections with our own world that we can’t help but like it. It is written fluidly and interestingly enough so as to keep you reading to the very end.
I think the plot is decent, the writing good and the characters unnervingly close to the bone at times but it is not a patch on Haddon’s exemplary Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The later made me shed buckets in both tears and laughter, an exquisite masterpiece of fiction. But A Spot of Bother doesn’t really come close to cutting the same mustard. It is good, don’t get me wrong, and very enjoyable but wasn’t really worth me starting it a second time.
So I thought, “Sod it! I’m going to treat myself!” I had some time to kill and thought it best placed in WH Smith’s to purchase a new book for my trip home (Mum’s shelves include mainly walking books, not so much fiction to tangle with there and I am not about to go trekking in the wiles of Scotland any time soon). This was a mistake as it made me heavily dislike fiction for about ten minutes! I was disgusted, outraged and quite frankly more than a little upset. It may have only been a small, commuter friendly Smith’s but that should not matter, there should surely be something I would want to read from those books displayed. But no. Every book, if it was not a World War One desperation it was a story based on a family secret laid to rest decades ago which has suddenly come to some conveniently timed importance in our contemporary world. Snooze. Or if not that, some twee murder story about characters whose names alone make me want to kill them or some Joanna Trollop-esq beach trash. That was it. There was quite a healthy number of books and not one of them seemed to deviate from the above. I have no real issue with World War dramas, but they are often done so badly and righteously that they now turn me off in an instant. I know there will one day be such a book which brings me back into the fold, but Tuesday was not that day! The other ‘genres’ present could honestly go jump.
So, I had to spend the duration of my journey reading a book I didn’t really want to re-read and listening to bad parenting all around me – it was half term after all and I refuse to blame small children for their antics. I should have packed the iPod but simply did not think ahead. I should have packed at least one other book! In hindsight maybe even stretched to a magazine as before long I felt a little nauseated and I couldn’t work out which factor was more prominent; the oh-so-baby-soft-and-infuriatingly-spoken-mother next to me, the if-I-ignore-my-small-child-completely-it-will-go-away-mother in front, the fact that I was travelling backwards on a tilting train or the book.
All I know for sure is that I gave the book another go, read it through and did not throw up once. Neither did I want to read it on a beach, murder a character for having a stupidly flamboyant name, or wish there were more flashbacks to the Great War. Got to be worth an attempt, surely?!