A Spot of Bother

by Mark Haddon

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

The domestic comedy of A Spot of Bother is presented from four viewpoints. It begins as George Hall, a retired playground equipment manufacturer, decides that an odd spot on his hip is cancerous. In “his” chapters, he grapples with growing terror at the thought that he is about to die. Despite his doctor’s reassurance, he sinks ever deeper into angst, finally attempting to remove the spot himself. A hospital stay and a prescription for Valium give him some respite, but soon his despair reemerges, leaving him nearly incapacitated.

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His wife, Jean, is little help. Over the years, their marriage has staled, and she is involved in a love affair with David, one of George’s former coworkers. At the time of George’s crisis, she is upset that their daughter, Katie, is about to marry Ray, a man the family has called “unsuitable.” Her concern for Katie and her interest in David leave her little time for George’s eccentric behavior, and anyway, George is unable to tell her about his fears, especially after he observes her and David making love in their bed.

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Katie herself is unsure of her motives for marrying Ray. He seems much better than her first husband, and he is unfailingly kind to her little boy, Jacob. Moreover, he has a nice house and plenty of money. What he lacks is Katie’s intellectual achievement, and she fears that she is about to marry for security, not love.

Her brother Jamie, a successful real estate agent, also has love problems. He and his boyfriend Tony have just split, and Jamie must come to terms with his guilt in spoiling their relationship, as well as with his concern for his sister’s welfare. He dreads the upcoming wedding, knowing that his parents are hypersensitive to what others may think of his homosexuality. His unwillingness to invite Tony to the wedding was the precipitating factor in their breakup.

The novel’s many short chapters circle through these characters’ concerns and the various crises that arise from the on-again, off-again wedding and George’s erratic behavior; at one point, he crouches behind a chair and moos softly. Because this is a comedy, the errors multiply on the day of the wedding, but each character arrives at last at an understanding of the importance of true love. Everyone realizes what a sterling fellow Ray is; Jamie manages to patch things up with Tony; Jean knows that she belongs with George, who in turn realizes that the spot on his hip is just what the doctor diagnosed—eczema. Among all these rather neat epiphanies, all the characters come to understand that human attachments are more significant than what others may think about them. None of them says “Only connect,” but they all know it.

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