Synopses & Reviews
George Hall is an unobtrusive man. A little distant, perhaps, a little cautious, not quite at ease with the emotional demands of fatherhood or of manly bonhomie. "The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely." Some things in life can't be ignored, however: his tempestuous daughter Katie's deeply inappropriate boyfriend Ray, for instance, or the sudden appearance of a red circular rash on his hip.
At 57, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden and enjoying the freedom to be alone when he wants. But then he runs into a spot of bother. That red circular rash on his hip: George convinces himself it's skin cancer. And the deeply inappropriate Ray? Katie announces he will become her second husband. The planning for these frowned-upon nuptials proves a great inconvenience to George's wife, Jean, who is carrying on a late-life affair with her husband's ex-colleague. The Halls do not approve of Ray, for vague reasons summed up by their son Jamie's observation that Ray has "strangler's hands." Jamie himself has his own problems his tidy and pleasant life comes apart when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to Katie's wedding. And Katie, a woman whose ferocious temper once led to the maiming of a carjacker, can't decide if she loves Ray, or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob.
Unnoticed in the uproar, George quietly begins to go mad. The way these damaged people fall apart and come together as a family is the true subject of Haddon's hilarious and disturbing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.
A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon's unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Once again, Haddon proves a master of a story at once hilarious, poignant, dark, and profoundly human. Here the madness literally of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon's crackling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.
"Recent retiree George Hall, convinced that his eczema is cancer, goes into a tailspin in Haddon's (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) laugh-out-loud slice of British domestic life. George, 61, is clearly channeling a host of other worries into the discoloration on his hip (the 'spot of bother'): daughter Katie, who has a toddler, Jacob, from her disastrous first-marriage to the horrid Graham, is about to marry the equally unlikable Ray; inattentive wife Jean is having an affair with George's former co-worker, David Symmonds; and son Jamie doesn't think George is OK with Jamie's being queer. Haddon gets into their heads wonderfully, from Jean's waffling about her affair to Katie's being overwhelmed (by Jacob, and by her impending marriage) and Jamie's takes on men (and boyfriend Tony in particular, who wants to come to the wedding). Mild-mannered George, meanwhile, despairing over his health, slinks into a depression; his major coping strategies involve hiding behind furniture on all fours and lowing like a cow. It's an odd, slight plot something like the movie Father of the Bride crossed with Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (as skin rash) but it zips along, and Haddon subtly pulls it all together with sparkling asides and a genuine sympathy for his poor Halls. No bother at all, this comic follow-up to Haddon's blockbuster (and nicely selling book of poems) is great fun. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It's a pleasant comic caper, the literary equivalent of a night spent watching a romantic comedy. There's nothing wrong with it, but nothing hugely memorable, either." San Francisco Chronicle
"Haddon perfectly captures his characters' frailties and strengths while injecting humor with pinpoint accuracy. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Full of dialogue too clever by half, too perfectly timed to feel sincere. Even the book's one child can occasionally fire back zingers, giving this story the swift-moving, shallow current feel of television and the same lasting power." Newsday
"A Spot of Bother snaps, crackles and pops with humor and pathos as Haddon depicts family members driving one another crazy." Los Angeles Times
Best New Crime Writer of the Year: Winner of the CWA 2013 John Creasey Dagger Award
"Has the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller."
— New York Times
"Truly a page-turner...Norwegian by Night is about past wars and present-day ethnic strife, family, grief, guilt and, ultimately, redemption. Korea (and phantom Koreans), Vietnam, the Holocaust, ethnic identity — Serb, Norwegian, Muslim, and yes, Jewish — these are the true characters of the novel....Funny, moving and thoroughly gripping."
"A stunning examination of how our lives shape our character, and how our allegiances shape our destiny."
— Bethanne Patrick, AARP (1 of "12 Summer Reads for 2013")
"Derek B. Miller's debut novel, Norwegian by Night, is about aging snipers. Or, it's about parenting and loss. Or, the lingering traces of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It feels about as full as life itself, and almost as real."
—Jessica Young, Jewniverse
"[A] beautifully-written contribution to Nordic noir with a twist. It cleverly avoids many the genres clichés and pitfalls and emerges triumphant as a fully-dimensional gem."
—From the John Creasey Dagger Award Judges' Citation
"Both an exciting chase thriller and a poignant story about a man who comes into his own again in his dotage." --Library Journal "No brief plot outline can do justice to a book that deserves to find a place on a few best-of-the-year lists. Sheldon is a brilliantly imagined character, a true mensch, made of Greatest Generation stuff...Miller joins the ranks of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbø, the holy trinity of Scandinavian crime novelists." --Booklist, starred "Miller's affecting debut, about a cantankerous Jewish widower transplanted to Norway who becomes party to a hate crime, is an unusual hybrid: part memory novel, part police procedural, part sociopolitical tract and part existential meditation. Miller, an American living in Oslo...makes the setting a powerful character...The novel, first published in Norway, was worth the wait." --Kirkus Reviews "A literate, thoughtful and unusual thriller...Our image of Scandinavia is one of tolerance — Miller doesnt disagree with the image, but Norwegian by Night offers a fascinating fictional exploration of the meaning and implementation of that tolerance." --The Times (UK) "Norwegian by Night has all the ingredients of a top-notch thriller, but it's the superb characterisation of the protagonist that fuels true suspense. Funny and moving as well as thoroughly gripping, this is crime fiction of the highest order." --The Guardian "Much more than an enjoyable thriller. It is a beautifully written tale of love and loss...One of the best novels of the year."—Jenni Frazer, The Jewish Chronicle (UK) "This highly visual storytelling reads like a first draft of the script for an action-packed, emotionally satisfying movie, one that will appeal to both sexes." —Jewish Book Council Norwegian by Night's n ot just a great title, it's also a soulful, humane, and sparklingly funny novel. Spend some time with Sheldon and company in the Scandinavian wilderness and you just might make peace with your god, your ghosts, and yourself. -- Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story "Brilliant, serious literary crime and our favorite thing, Scandi-noir, but with a twist..." - Erica Wagner, The Times '100 people to watch in 2013' (UK) "NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT is an outrageously intelligent thriller, and its philosopher-sniper hero, Sheldon Horowitz, is a character who'll stay in your brain for decades. You might come for the guns and the ruckus, but by the last page, with your heart still pounding, you'll be crying at all the goddamned beauty and love in the world." - Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River and The Cradle "Norwegian by Night shifts along like an inquisitive wind, with characters who enter your mind so easily its as if theyve been there all along, and a voice so confident you would follow it into a leaning house. Generous with its wit, dazzling in its cultural and historical reach, Derek Millers novel is the kind of sweep-you-up tale a reader always wants but rarely finds, the kind where you stand in the bookstore reading the opening pages and whisper, This is the one."—Leif Enger, bestselling author of Peace Like a River "Have you ever lucked into one of those novels so taut and suspenseful that you can't turn the pages fast enough, yet, at the same time, so magnificently written and psychologically incisive that you find yourself unable to turn those same pages slowly enough? Such novels are as rare as great comets. Norwegian by Night, I'm happy to report, is one. Make sure you're in a comfortable spot when cracking this book; you won't be putting it down for an obscenely long while."—Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines "Humane, blackly funny, heartbreaking, full of believable people and with a touching, magnificent hero in Sheldon, this is one of the best books Ive read this year. Verdict: Brilliant."—Herald Sun (Australia) "Norwegian By Night [is] ostensibly a Scandinavian thriller yet recalls Saul Bellow and Philip Roths more cerebral creations…A remarkably confident debut that is at once a rich psychological study, a political parable that seems to be about Americas compulsion to intervene abroad, and a moving story of an old mans last chance to slay his demons."—John Dydale, The Sunday Times (UK) "A stunningly good debut thriller, subtle and moving, with a truly original hero…Literate, elegant and compelling."—Marcel Berlins, The Times (UK) "From the synopsis, it is impossible to harness all the themes and subtlety of prose that this book conveys to the reader. On one level, not only does the book contain all the quintessential elements of a Scandinavian crime novel, it also encompasses the Korean, Vietnam, and Balkan conflicts, and on a more emotional level, presents a poignant and meditative examination of aging and regret…I would urge everyone to read this exceptional debut, with its powerful and emotive themes…[as well as] all the tension of a totally authentic Scandinavian crime thriller. I cannot praise it highly enough, and Norwegian By Night could well be one of my top crime reads of the year. Outstanding." —Raven Crime Reads (blog)
A Washington Post Best Book of the YearA Spot of Bother is Mark Haddons unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. At sixty-one, George Hall is settling down to a comfortable retirement. When his tempestuous daughter, Katie, announces that she is getting married to the deeply inappropriate Ray, the Hall family is thrown into a tizzy. Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind.As parents and children fall apart and come together, Haddon paints a disturbing yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.
A profoundly moving, deliciously suspenseful novel about an American grandfather and a newly orphaned boy racing across the Norwegian wilderness, fleeing demons both real and imagined.
Crime Writers Association John Creasey Dagger Award winner
An ECONOMIST TOP FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR
A FINANCIAL TIMES BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A GUARDIAN BEST CRIME AND THRILLER OF THE YEAR
A KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR
A luminous novel, a police thriller, and the funniest book about war crimes and dementia you are likely to read
Sheldon Horowitz—widowed, impatient, impertinent—has grudgingly agreed to leave New York and move in with his granddaughter, Rhea, and her new husband, Lars, in Norway: a country of blue and ice with one thousand Jews, not one of them a former Marine sniper in the Korean War turned watch repairman, who failed his only son by sending him to Vietnam to die. Not until now, anyway.
Home alone one morning, Sheldon witnesses a dispute between the woman who lives upstairs and an aggressive stranger. When events turn dire, Sheldon seizes and shields the neighbors young son from the violence, and they flee the scene. But old age and circumstances are altering Sheldons experience of time and memory. He is haunted by dreams of his son Sauls life and by guilt over his death. As Sheldon and the boy look for a haven in an alien world, reality and fantasy, past and present, weave together, forcing them ever forward to a wrenching moment of truth.
Norwegian by Night introduces an ensemble of unforgettable characters—Sheldon and the boy, Rhea and Lars, a Balkan war criminal named Enver, and Sigrid and Petter, the brilliantly dry-witted investigating officers—as they chase one another, and their own demons, through the wilderness at the end of the world.
About the Author
Mark Haddon is the author of the international bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year award. In addition to the recently published The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has also written and illustrated numerous children's books and received several awards for his television screenplays.
Table of Contents
The 59th Parallel 1
River Rats 105
New River 193
Reading Group Guide
“A Spot of Bother
snaps, crackles, and pops with humor and pathos. . . . Sparklingly written. . . . Haddon deftly pulls this off with what we can now hail as his trademark tenderness.”
—Los Angeles Times
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group’s discussion of A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon’s astonishing follow-up to his international bestseller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award.
1. What methods does Haddon use to create the tremendous narrative energy of A Spot of Bother? How do chapter lengths, paragraph lengths, and the predominance of dialogue affect the pace of the novel?
2. A Spot of Bother takes the form of a romantic comedy in which a couple must overcome a series of obstacles before they can be married. What internal and external obstacles must Katie and Ray overcome? To what degree do Jamie and Tony and George and Jean have to overcome similar obstacles?
3. What are some of the most humorous moments in A Spot of Bother? What makes them so funny?
4. While he’s playing with Jacob and Ray, George thinks that “if he could find the handle he might be able to open up the secret door and slide down that long chute all the way back to childhood and someone would take care of him and he would be safe” [p. 23]. Why does George feel this desire to return to the safety of childhood?
5. Jamie, Jean, and George (and even, at times, Katie) initially regard Ray with suspicion, mild contempt, and outright dislike. Why do they come to accept and appreciate him over the course of the novel? Does Ray himself change or do their perceptions of him change?
6. In what ways are the Halls a typical family? In what ways are they unusual? How does their family dynamic change over the course of the novel?
7. Why doesn’t George tell anyone after he sees his wife having sex with David? Why doesn’t he confront Jean? What are the consequences of his thinking that he could put the image in the back of his mind where he hopes that after a time it will “fade and lose its power”. [p. 127]?
8. George tells Katie: “I’ve wasted my life. . . . Your mother doesn’t love me. I spent thirty years doing a job that meant nothing to me. And now . . . it hurts so much” [p. 138]. Has George wasted his life? Is this feeling the source of his mental unraveling?
9. A Spot of Bother is a deeply comic and at times farcical novel. But it is also a novel about the fear of death. How does George try to manage his fear of dying?
10. Why does Katie fall in love with Ray only after the wedding has been called off? Is theirs likely to be a good marriage? Why do Jamie and Jean similarly realize the true worth of their relationships only after they seem to be lost?
11. Near the end of the novel, Ray says: “Eventually you realize that other people’s problems are other people’s problems” [p. 346]. Is this a wise or a selfish way of looking at things? In what ways is it relevant to what’s happened in the novel itself? What does it reveal about Ray that no one had really noticed before?
12. Jean thinks to herself: “Her life with George was not an exciting life. But wouldn’t life with David go the same way eventually? . . . Perhaps the secret was to make the best of what you had” [p. 311]. In what ways do all the major characters in the novel come to realize the truth of this view?
13. After the various catastrophes of their wedding day have subsided, Ray tells Katie: “We’re just the little people on top of the cake. Weddings are about families. You and me, we’ve got the rest of our lives together” [p. 302]. Why are weddings about families? What effects does Ray and Katie’s wedding have on the Hall family?
14. At the very end of the book, George says: “it was time to stop all this nonsense” [p. 354]. What does he mean?
15. A Spot of Bother is very specifically about one family, but what larger truths about the human condition does it express?
Review A Day
"A Spot of Bother
is such a pleasure to read it is funny, wry, and well-paced that it is only later that you realize what a thoughtful novel it is. Mark Haddon created a unique voice in Christopher, his autistic fifteen-year-old narrator of The Curious Incident
, and the book went on to win the Whitbread Book of the Year. A Spot of Bother
is less quirky, less dazzlingly ambitious, yet to my mind it is just as satisfying and emotionally rich." Georgie Lewis, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review