When I was a teenager, one of my favorite authors was Deborah Moggach, author of many books including Tulip Fever, Seesaw and, my favorite, Close Relations. Close Relations is a ‘family drama’ following the lives of the fair to affluent Hammond family, builder-dad Gordon, his wife (very much in that order I’m afraid) and their three grown up daughters Louise, Prudence and Maddy. The daughters all have their own agendas and hidden problems, and yet still manage throughout the book to apparently have to people in their lives outside of those they are either sleeping with, or related to. However, the book is warm, funny, rude as anything (there’s a threesome that came as quite a surprise to my 14 year old self, and was also the first threesome shown on UK telly when it was adapted). It s a really really great read if you like your family sagas, and well written enough for a decent beach book with substance.
The reason I was reminded of this book was because of my choice of ‘holiday’ reading this week, when I planned to do little more than sit in my father’s amazingly beautiful garden, let it all hang out and read about four books a day. I was donated about 50 more books to the Traveling Suitcase Library on Saturday (thank you Laura!) and obviously went through them all first, to see if there was any I could plow my way through before Sunday, in order to have more books to recommend. I won’t be.
I came accross Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother. I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time when it came out and thought it sensationally good. It made me weep a little bit, and gain more understanding, or at least want to gain more understanding, about autism, asperger’s and the issues surrounding these conditions. I thought the writing was so good, he captured the voice so perfectly and it was justifiably a best best best seller, really popular in my work library.
A Spot of Bother’s blurb sounded promising- Katie’s wedding is causing problems within the family, she doesn’t know if she wants to marry him because he has ‘stranglers hands’, the mother is having an affair, the brother hasn’t come out as gay to his family, the father has found a cancerous lesion. I thought, great, easy, yet poignant. I can have a good cry and feel warmth and family joy at the end when it all works out, and these books always do.
How wrong I was. I spent the whole seven hours it took me to read the 475 pages of the novel (as opposed to the month it took me to read the 600 pages of Nelson Mandela’s biography) feeling exasperated, bored, and full of bile. The reason? Its just so snobbish!. Whether Haddon was trying to show how ridiculous being “middle class” is I don’t know, but thats basically all I got from this book. The husband-to-be isn’t a serial killer, he’s common. And from the North. This makes him some how unsuitable for a woman who speaks French and whose family own a piece of land big enough to have a marquee in it. Territorial racism aside, I wouldn’t have minded if Ray, the strangler, had been portrayed as common by the author, but he wasn’t, or at least not any kind of common I know. He was just, well, blah. Like every single other character in the book. Even the father who is slowly loosing his mind (in such an unrealistic and unsympathetic way I couldn’t believe I was reading the same writer who made me sob so much at the boy and his dad touching finger tips because the boy is afraid of hugging in The Curious Incident) was just plain boring. The affair, and the gay son, because you can’t have a book about being middle class without covering the basics of adulatory and homosexuality, were silly and unconvincing, and could have been cut altogether with no detriment to the frankly woolly plot.
The whole book was a complete waste of my time, and would have been better if he had cut out 300 pages, focused on the father’s fear of dying, and done a theme based, rather than saga-plot-driven piece on being middle class and middle aged, which would at least have been interesting.
What annoyed me the most was the amount of reviews being so complimentary, and they amount this book sold. If you want to read some middle class blah about how dreadful it is to have loads of money and be really close to your family, read Close Relations, because its just so much better.
This month I have also read The Witches of Eastwick, which is just so good my head nearly exploded with joy, and loads of Daisy Dalrymples’, because I could.