A Spot of Bother
1 journaler for this copy...
This is the November choice, mostly by default as no-one has read it. Am 50 pages in, a gentle start, no literary fireworks but quietly funny and insightful...
Recently retired 57 year-old George Ward starts to behave strangely, triggered by finding a lesion on his hip (subsequently diagnosed as eczema) and the impending marriage of his daughter to an 'unacceptable' partner. As his mental health deteriorates in the run-up to the on/off wedding, his wife, son and daughter suffer there own crises as they re-assess there lives and relationships. The novel ends with George apparently in remission, his wife Jean resigned to her own circumstances and everyone else more-or-less living happily ever after.
Q&A with meeting notes
1. Are the mental health issues covered in this book realistic; does it matter in fiction?
As ‘lay’ people SW & BGM thought it was good enough to appear realistic. It was thought that factual accuracy was more important, i.e. obvious and frustrating when it’s wrong. The consensus was that fiction doesn’t have to be real, although with human interest stories a basis of fact is important and adds depth & veracity, like ‘The Bell Jar’
2. Are the family and professional reactions to George's illness typical, including confusion as to the symptoms, causes, and remedial action (various stock phrases are used inc. stress, depression, panic attacks, 'pull yourself together', the implication of a more general mid life crisis, fear of death etc.)
We doubted whether people in the real world really said these sorts of things – see next question. However, without much history it was hard to know what the real causes of George’s breakdown were, although ‘rational hypochondriac’ BH recognized the panic that is possible with unexplained illness
3. Are George's reactions stereotypically those of a English middle-aged man, summed up in the euphemistic title 'A Spot of Bother'; what about the range of traumas and irrational behaviours exhibited variously by Jean, Jamie & Ray?
It was thought that George was a throwback to some post-war idea of the English ‘stiff upper-lip’, not necessarily the way people would react now with more awareness and openness in society. KR likened it to Last of the Summer Wine, but she said some odd things all evening…kept SW entertained anyway ;)
4. Is there a parallel between George's 'selfish' behaviour and Jacob; cries for attention, security, and structure/certainty?
Only BGM thought this might have been a deliberate device by Haddon, although we all thought the episodes between George and Jacob were some of the most poignant in the book, and KR pointed out that adults start behaving like children as they get older!
5. (i) Do you feel sympathy for Jean? No, although we don’t know what their relationship was before George retired, but she does come across as insensitive and remote (ii) is Ray too good to be true? No, but compared to the Hall’s he is a saint who doesn’t wear his family problems on his sleeve (iii) is Jamie spoilt & self-obsessed? Yes! (iv) is Katie unhinged? Maybe? Do we care enough about any of the periphery characters, or are they just fillers? It was felt that as characters they were poorly drawn stereotypes in a pot boiler novel
6. Is this a boy's book or a girl's book? What does that mean; family saga, dialogue over action, themes & emotional content...?
KR denied that she thought about books as gender-specific – no-one believed her - although the suggestion that she might be a hermaphrodite were flatly refuted! BGM mostly reads boy’s books, SW only reads books with guns, violence and no emotions, BH is unashamedly girly. We couldn’t decide on an answer to this question…somewhere in the middle of a spectrum (KR); a girl’s book disguised as a boy’s book, whatever that means! (BGM)
7. What do you think about the use of humour in the book, mostly at the expense of human fallibility?
Nobody found it very funny :(
8. What do you think about the use of sex in the book, both hetero & homosexual?
BH thought that the scene when George found his wife was pivotal. BGM pointed out that the other sex scenes were unnecessary and were odd considering that his first book was a teen-adult crossover
9. Did you find George's symptoms & behaviour distressing; was the use of explicit descriptions of self-harming unnecessarily graphic?
It was generally thought the cutting episode was warranted because it validated George’s condition. BGM admitted to being a bit squeamish.
10. Is Mark Haddon's difficult second book a success; probably impossible to live up to the massive acclaim of 'The Curious Incident'
Although BGM quite liked it (he would wouldn’t he), the rest of the group didn’t like it; in fact it made KR doubt how good Mark Haddon is as an author and the authentic voice in ‘A Curious Incident’. This started a big debate about one-hit-wonders, the consistency of geniuses, and whether we can change our ‘objective’ views about a piece of art on its own merits
11. The ending is weak & incomplete. Discuss!?
BGM thought it was a bit contrived, others were just happy that it ended!
BH – Katie
BGM – Tony
SW – Pete
KR - Rebecca
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
Left this morning in the Caffe Nero in T4...on my way to Philadelphia, paid by my contract employer :)