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.