I loved Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” as much as the next person, so I was genuinely disappointed to find that his new novel, “A Spot of Bother,” is rather lightweight stuff. From my review in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle:

“It must be the best kind of curse, writing a first novel that becomes a smash best-seller and also happens to be a fine book. Or maybe Britain’s Mark Haddon never worried about what fans of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” might expect from his follow-up.

The 2003 first novel that sent legions of book club members to their local bookstores asking, “Do you have that one about the dog and the night?” boasted a great hook: An autistic boy investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog and accidentally uncovers the secrets of his parents’ split. But it wasn’t any mere gimmick that had readers pushing “Curious Incident” into friends’ hands, and it wasn’t simply the mesmerizing believability with which Haddon entered the autistic mind. There were high stakes in “Curious Incident,” and heartbreak.

Haddon’s new novel, “A Spot of Bother,” doesn’t have that kind of power, and it’s not likely to win ardent admirers. 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.

It takes place in a quaint English village and revolves, as so many romantic comedies do, around a wedding. Katie Hall, a well-educated single mom, is about to marry Ray, a goodhearted working-class lug. The problem is, she can hardly force herself to tell him, “I love you,” and frets that she’s using him for free child care and housing. Meanwhile, brother Jamie loses love-of-his life Tony when he selfishly declines to invite Tony to the nuptials. Mother Jean, by the way, is having an affair with her husband’s former co-worker. And the final trouble that makes this all collapse? George Hall, the family’s sweetly unhinged patriarch, has just discovered a patch of eczema he feels certain is cancer.”

Click here for the full review.

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