A novelist of major potential puts his artistic ambition on hold
with this minor follow-up to his audacious breakthrough.The Curious
Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) would be a tough act
for any writer to follow. Haddon earned raves from critics and
readers alike for the ingenious narrative voice of his protagonist,
an autistic teenaged math genius investigating the disappearance of
his mother and the death of a dog. The British author's first shot
at adult fiction (following a number of children's books) was so
strikingly original that it's particularly disappointing to find
him here settling into the sort of conventional domestic comedy
that so many have done before and that some have done better.
George Hall is a 61-year-old retiree, a dutiful father and a dull,
dependable husband. He has been living on autopilot until he
discovers a spot on his skin and convinces himself that he has
cancer. When neither his family nor his doctor takes his
self-diagnosis seriously, he starts to think he's losing his mind.
Wife Jean has been distracted by her affair with one of George's
former coworkers. Their divorced daughter, Katie, announces her
impending marriage to a man who might even be duller than George,
but who provides security and emotional support for her son. Her
gay brother, Jamie, is mainly concerned with whether to bring his
lover to the wedding, knowing that his parents are in denial and
that the guests will be scandalized. Will George die or go crazy?
Will Jean leave him? Will Katie go through with the wedding? Will
Jamie bring his lover? Will the reader care? Though Haddon is a
clever writer with an eye and ear for the absurdities of everyday
life, the results here fall somewhere between the psychological
depth of Anne Tyler and the breeziness of Nick Hornby.Takes too
long to arrive at its farcical finale and seems too slight in the
process. (Kirkus Reviews)
George Hall doesn't understand the modern obsession with talking
about everything. 'The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in
ignoring many things completely.' Some things in life, however,
cannot be ignored. At fifty-seven, George is settling down to a
comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading
historical novels, listening to a bit of light jazz. Then Katie,
his tempestuous daughter, announces that she is getting remarried,
to Ray. Her family is not pleased - as her brother Jamie observes,
Ray has 'strangler's hands'. Katie can't decide if she loves Ray,
or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob, and her
mother Jean is a bit put out by all the planning and arguing the
wedding has occasioned, which get in the way of her quite
fulfilling late-life affair with one of her husband's former
colleagues. And the tidy and pleasant life Jamie has created
crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded
nuptials. Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister
lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. The way
these damaged people fall apart - and come together - as a family
is the true subject of Mark Haddon's disturbing yet very funny
portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.
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