Tuesday, October 24, 2006

BOOKS: A Spot of Awesome

All righty. I was just warming up with yesterday's batch of books. Today's bunch are, if you can believe it, even better. I lucked into a serious roll for a week or so. I probably should've been out buying lottery tickets instead of hunkered down reading books, but these things are always so easy to realize in hindsight.

A Spot of Bother
by Mark Haddon (#35)
I was excited and trepidatious about this book. I loved
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and I worried that Haddon couldn't follow up his inaugural novel with another that would touch me in the same way. Fortunately, he doesn't even try. Instead, he starts with a fresh slate and a group of very different characters, each of whom gets to piece together the story in his or her own voice.

There aren't a lot of novelists who can write about a main character's real descent into insanity
in the context of a comic novel and still maintain their own, and their character's, humanity and integrity. But Haddon pulls it off with grace and hilarious ease, and if The Curious Incident didn't have you convinced that he's a genius, surely A Spot of Bother must. And if not, you're just a tough cookie and there's no reasoning with you.

I loved this book. It reminded me somewhat of
Douglas Coupland's novel All Families Are Psychotic, the book that I believe signalled Coupland's return to creating good fiction. So if you haven't read that yet, either, hop to it. Time's a-wastin'.

The Full Cupboard of Life
Alexander McCall Smith (#36)
Nothing much new to say here. If you haven't started reading McCall Smith's
No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series yet, I'm just going to assume you've been busy saving orphans and kittens from burning buildings and marauding pirates and rabid mongooses.

Or something like that. Good on you. I, on the other hand, who have now officially read every book in the series, am envious of you. The riches of these stories await you like so many ripe, succulent, late-harvest plums. Or something like that.

Moral Disorder
by Margaret Atwood (#37)
It's funny. It didn't even occur to me to think of this collection of vignettes, all centred around sixty years in the life of a family, as "disjointed" until I read this word in a review. I disagree. True, these stories lack the connect-the-dottedness of a traditional linear story, but to me that's what makes them work. All the spaces in this narrative made me think about all the silences, the weight of unspoken thoughts and feelings, that accumulate over the history of a family. The tension these gaps create in the story are not like the tension they create in a family -- because hey, it's a metaphor, not reality -- but they do their work just by reminding us that these silences exist, and that they have meaning in and of themselves.

What I loved about these stories was what a departure they were for Atwood from her previous work. They're intimate and tightly written, but this is Atwood we're talking about, so these stories are anything but insignificant. If you like Atwood, I think you'll really like
Moral Disorder. And if you don't normally care for Atwood, you should give this collection a try anyway. Trust me. I'm working for you here.

Woohoo! Six books down, and only two more to go. They said it couldn't be done, but here I am! In all my glory!


Marissa said...

Have you read "Blue Shoes and Happiness", the latest one in the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series?

Andi said...

I'm probably the only human who wasn't bowled over by Curious Incident, but I'm more than willing to give A Spot of Bother a go now that I've read your thoughts. I like that he's starting anew rather than trying to rehash Curious Incident with a new cover.

And Atwood is almost always a winner. Next up from her, for me, is Alias Grace (I'm embarrassingly behind on reading her stuff in general).

Tammy said...

Marissa, I'm sad to say that I have. I started the series in the middle and have been reading it haphazardly ever since. Strangely, this has made less of a difference than you'd expect.

A. Estella Sassypants, then my comments were directed expressly at you. A Spot of Bother was fantastic: subtle, moving, and very, very funny in a totally British kind of way. There's a character in a novel (not this one) who, in the throes of going insane, looks up at his wife over dinner and says, "Do you think that after I do the dishes, you might drive me to the mental asylum?" And without missing a beat, his wife assures him, "Darling, on days when you go insane, you don't have to do the dishes." Reading A Spot of Bother put me in mind of this passage.

Anita said...

I guess I've been busy saving orphans and kittens from burning buildings and marauding pirates and rabid mongooses.

Somehow that whole title of Smith's series just says "blah" to me, but since you are the 90th person to rave to me about the series AND the first person whose taste I actually respect - - I am adding it to my neverending TBR list.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that I ended up on your site by chance. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is one of my four favorite books and she is my favorite living author. Next week, I have a chance to meet her in CA for a book signing of Moral Disorder. I'm glad to know that you recommend it; I'm so excited!

Anonymous said...

I have been very hesitant to pick up Spot of Bother. It just seems like Haddon wrote an over-the-top dysfunctional family story. Was that not the case?