A Spot Where Nobody Really Bothers?

Mark Haddon received savage reviews for his poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village, which followed his amazing novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But does Haddon’s next novel, A Spot of Bother, atone for this misstep?

You wouldn’t know it from the reviews.

The Independent‘s Rebecca Pearson says Bother is “a superb novel, and I was shocked when it didn’t make the Man Booker longlist.” Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s Patrick Ness notes that it’s “a perfectly readable yet strangely undemanding novel of familiar domestic drama.” No starred review from Publishers Weekly, but the PW review insists it’s “great fun.” The Voice‘s Alexis Soloski gives it a lukewarm if positive review.

Like Fade Theory, I find it a bit difficult to gauge the book’s qualities with the current review coverage. Pearson’s review features plenty of ecstatic praise, but it doesn’t attach these plaudits to anything specific in the text. Likewise, the other reviews I’ve cited resort the majority of their space to summarizing the plot. If the reviewers are understandably jaded after Haddon’s poetry chapbook, I can understand. But The Curious Incident wasn’t exactly small potatoes. And if the reviewers can’t be bothered to follow Haddon’s career trajectory, I’m hoping more comprehensive heads might be employed to do so.

I’m a Novelist, Not A _______

While we’re on the subject of what authors are up, I should note that Mark Haddon has a small chapbook of poetry coming out in April (already out in the UK). Proving to the world that Haddon will likely specialize in extremely long titles until the critical interest grows inflexible, this one’s called The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea. But the consensus indicates that it’s not so hot. Ranjit Bolt says, “[N]othing could prepare us for the tendentiousness, the unjustified formlessness, the ghastliness, of Haddon’s verse.” Neel Mukherjee of the Times is more encouraging: “If only his muse didn’t fall into the jerky stop-start motion of a nightmarish traffic jam on the M23, and he loosened his lines to let them breathe more.”

Don’t Blame the First Lady. She Still Doesn’t Know About EKG Treatment.

The Age has the Mark Haddon profile to end all Mark Haddon profiles. He confesses that he’s a fortysomething who listens to the Flaming Lips and Sparklehorse, is 30,000 words into his next novel Blood and Scissors, and (regrettably) has been reading the McSweeney’s crowd.

Laura Bush has called gay marriage “a very, very shocking issue.” She also reports that she faints at the sight of blood.

The American Prospect has some fun with a comparative review of stalker/sucker/spineless wanker memoirs.

Caryn James examines the recent rise of Hollywood fiction.

And if, like me, you were an RPG geek back in the 80s, you might be interested to know that Paranoia has returned.


Primer: Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize. The film was made for $7,000, doesn’t appear to have a distribution deal yet, but somehow manages to involve time travel and ethics in its plot. The intricate story has also caused a lot of people to scratch their heads, which has resulted in several unclaimed ski caps left at theatres.

As if the Whitbread isn’t enough, Mark Haddon has walked away with another award — this time, from the South Bank Show. The British literary community is up in arms about this, trying to convince committees that “enough is enough.” An anonymous Important Literary Person has made calls, noting that, while The Curious Dog is a great book, Haddon has simply won too much praise and that there won’t be enough praise for the rest of the books.

Alexandra Ripley, author of Scarlett, has died. Several publishers, upon hearing the news, have been trying to determine which great Ripley book they can pilfer a sequel out of. Unfortunately, Ripley was no Margaret Mitchell. And no publisher wants to be reminded of how much they backed Ripley’s attempt to cash in, let alone the other stuff she wrote.

Prima facie that the New Yorker is overinfluenced by vapid McSweeney’s-like pop cultural riffs: “Boswell’s Life of Jackson”. (And Menudo is referenced in the first sentence. Oh no.)

James Fallows annotates the State of the Union address.

The Boston Globe interviews Tibor Fischer and Fischer comes across, no surprise, as a smug son of a bitch. Not only does he compare himself to Shakespeare, but he lauds cheapshots: “I’m with Amis, and so although in ‘Voyage’ I do have laughs at the expense of foreigners — so did Shakespeare — I also allow characters for whom English is not their first language to express dismay when someone British doesn’t know an arcane piece of English vocabulary: ‘It’s your language,’ they say.”

And to hell with the Golden Globes. How about a real award? Best Lead In A Rising Up and Rising Down Review: “For the past decade, it seemed Sacramento-based novelist William T. Vollmann was neck and neck in a war of prolificacy with Richard Powers, David Foster Wallace, and anyone else who would take him on. With ‘Rising Up and Rising Down,’ he has put the issue to rest.” And I truly feel sorry for John Freeman, who, like all reviewers, read all 3,500 pages from a CD-ROM.

Lizzie Grubman (not to be confused with this Lizzie) is returning to the social scene. This may be the first time in New York history that first-hand accounts of road rage are discussed over caviar.

At long last, a New York Times I want to see. (via Old Hag, courtesy of Pullquote)

Pynchon’s voice on The Simpsons. He sounds like an angrier Harvey Pekar. (via Chica)

Francis Ford Coppola quotes Wodehouse! (via At Large)

[1/24/06 UPDATE: Primer, as nearly all film geeks know by now, did manage to nab a DVD distribution deal, leading to enthusiasts working out the multiple timelines. As for the McSweeney’s influence upon the New Yorker (and other places), I should note that litblogs, as much as they claim to be anti-Eggers, are guilty practitioners (including this one).]

Well, Goddam

I’m embarassed to confess this, but the end of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time brought tears to my eyes. Everything that Everything is Illuminated tried to be (to somewhat satisfying effect), Dog sure as hell is. The novel appears inspired by the skewered perspectives of Paul Auster, Eric Kraft’s postmodern scrapbook approach, and W.G. Sebald’s penchant for contextual insets. Or not. Only Haddon really knows. But where Auster is content to bullshit with annoying asides, Haddon incorporates his cant into a universe that matters.

If the book was judged solely as a bravura performance of perspective, this would be enough. The narrator’s solipsism, the attempts by tertiary characters to reach out to Christopher, and the fact that the story is written in such an uncompromising way are all laudable. But the novel’s linear approaach matches its protagonist’s scientific mind. The story wends its ways through unexpected twists and a determination to solve a mystery, the great irony being that the mystery is much larger than even Christopher realizes. Christopher’s attempts to apply order, often when surrounded by elements of the world he doesn’t entirely understand, show off his blind spots. The book can be read as a dialectic between the real and the intellectual worlds. But Dog is a brave enough novel to voice the triumphs and weaknesses in prioritizing one world over the other. I came away from the book thinking about how little we accommodate those who are special or off-kilter, and how this willing ignorance often causes these minds to develop in unhealthy, emotional ways.

And that’s why anyone interested in literature should read this book immediately. That is, if they haven’t already.

[1/24/06 UPDATE: As to the question of what Haddon does for an encore, his followup is a chapbook of poetry called The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea.]

Seven Books in Tibet?

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Optioned by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston for New Line.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon: Optioned by Brad Pitt.

Dreamland by Kevin Baker: Optioned by Brad Pitt.

Mark L. Smith script: “Brad Pitt is reading one of his scripts.”

And there’s probably more. The moral of the story: If your book rides the careful crest between literary and pop, Brad Pitt will option it.


And the Whitbread goes to Mark Haddon’s The Very, Very Curious Incident of the Dog Who Was Let Out by the Baja Men in the Morning, Afternoon and Night Shortly After He Was Fed His Meal, which I’ve been meaning to read. Except I can never remember the exact title.

David Mamet is insane.

I didn’t realize the Alexander McCall Smith/Irvine Welsh thing had legs, but even in Scotland, they need their “bag of bones”/”entertainment not literature” Vidal/Mailer in-fights.

Andy Hamilton won’t write for BBC1. Hamilton claims that Auntie Beeb has pressured a writer to remove lesbian characters from a script to “incorporate the conservative tastes of focus groups.”

Modern Humorist: “Where are all the R’s? Is it a typographical error? Does the writer simply not like R’s? Or are there mysterious deeds at play, and are the R’s somewhow involved?”

Birnbaum talks with Jonathan Lethem. Birnbaum even gets Lethem to fess that Laura Miller is “making a contribution to literary journalism.” Birnbaum also shoots the goofy gale with Neal Pollack. Among the revelations: “[Eggers] said he didn’t want me along because my stuff was much more confrontational and in your face and aggressive and loud and profane. He wanted to take McSweeney’s in a more respectable direction. And then one day I woke up and my link was off the site. And I wasn’t a McSweeney’s guy anymore. Overnight. My main conduit for communicating over the Internet had been removed, so I had to start my own site.”

And The Chronicle has apparently reached a settlement with Henry Norr.

[1/23/06 UPDATE: It is quite likely that the Henry Norr story will be slipped under the rug. But I think it stands as a remarkable testament as to how a journalist’s outside activities are controlled to a great extent by his employer. As the newspapers continue to cut the coverage and eventually begin to drop, I am wondering if they’ll become even more controlling. Henry Norr, happily, is still writing — largely for online outlets. He can be found contributing reports for Macintouch and is still actively filing no-bullshit Macworld reports from the front lines.]