It happens when newly-retired George is trying on a suit to wear to a friend's funeral - he notices a lesion on the top of his thigh and knows that it's cancer. His first thought is the ways that he could commit suicide, each of which he rejects as quickly as it comes to him - you need equipment to hang yourself, you could change your mind halfway through plummeting from a tall building... George comes to huddled on the street, still wearing the shop's trousers.
And this becomes a theme over the rest of the novel, as George's existential angst ebbs and flows but primarily worsens. His family have their own problems - wife Jean's affair with George's former colleague David is becoming more fulfilling, daughter Katie is engaged to the eminently unsuitable Ray but having second thoughts, and son Jamie's stress over bringing boyfriend Tony to the wedding is dwarfed by relationship issues he didn't realise existed.
I found writing this review very difficult, in part, I think, because there are many readings of it and my experience may not be that of the (mythical) reader's. For me, Haddon manages to tap into the fears and stresses of existential angst/depression in the same way he reflected the unique thought process of the autistic in his previous (and lauded) novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Earlier this year I had a teeny-tiny-nothing-like-this existential angst period earlier, and Haddon's writing perfectly captured the way that I felt then. That's all behind me now (never, I'm hoping,to return) but when I was recently mentioned the period in passing to an acquaintance (who often believes he knows more than he does about a wide variety of things), he told me that there's no such thing as a mid-life crises or existential angst. Reading about George's family's complete lack of understanding brought back the same feelings I had when listening to Zach denying my own experience.
As I often, for some reason, do when reading English books, I found myself wanting to shake pretty much all the characters. I just don't get the heavy emphasis on worrying about what other people think to the extent that it overshadows your concern for your family. And there was a general lack of consideration for one another that was deliberate but that I still found irritating. However, all of that means that I was definitely engaged with the novel, which is a very pleasant change from another book I won't mention but which is reviewed directly below! I look forward to Mr Haddon's next novel, too. - Alex