Date started: 19th July
Date finished: 21st July
Why do I have it: I raided a friends bookshelf and found this 🙂
I was optimistic beginning this book, as it has won both the ‘Whitbread book of the year’ and the ‘booktrust teenage fiction’ awards. I don’t usually read book just because they win awards but it never hurts. Haddon’s book is the fictitious autobiography of one Christopher Boone, a 15 year old boy with autism. It is told from his unique perspective, chronicling how he sees the world and processes the life changing events which occur.
For a reader it is certainly a unique experience. Because the writing style is so different, it takes a couple of chapters to get used to the fashion in which Haddon has chosen to write. He uses very precise detail and clear language to describe the events which unfold. At times it felt as if I was reading a witness statement. While one would think that this would make the story all the more enjoyable, because everything was clearly laid out, it had the opposite effect for me. There was no flourish to the writing, instead it felt rigid and stiff. I like a challenging read and a little descriptive language never hurt anyone. But I do understand the reasoning behind the lack of it.
The real saving grace of this book was the understanding it gives you. The subject matter is delicate as it affects so many people world-wide and for that reason it’s not always spoken about openly. In his book Mark Haddon shows us how he believes those with autism (at least Christopher’s type) think and process information. It’s eye-opening to read christopher’s point of view. It is just shy of charming at times but can then turn completely emotionless and rigid in a second.
The mathematical motif employed by Haddon was used cleverly to give structure to the story and to mirror Christopher’s logical mind. Immediately as you notice the strangely numbered chapters (they’re numbered in increasing prime numbers) you gain an appreciation for how exact and rigid our protagonist is in his thinking.
Seeing the world from Christopher’s point of view was eye-opening as he reduced everything from body language to familiar metaphorical sayings to their most simple meanings. It is mentioned in great detail that his hero is Sherlock Holmes (an aspect I loved!) and as I read, I had to admit that his fashion of thinking is akin to how I would imagine the character of Sherlock thinking. But he was missing the most vital component to most holmesian deductions, Holmes’ instinctive understanding of why people act as they do. Christopher was completely unable to understand other people because as he explains it, they keep changing.
It was strange, almost uncomfortable at times, to read a point of view that appeared so logical in certain circumstances but who could just as easily rationalise hitting someone or smashing a window when emotions were introduced to the equation. It was shocking to realise that it was easier for Christopher to strike out than to try to process this unfamiliar emotive data. He carried around a swish army knife and was capable of being incredibly violent because he could rationalise any situation into simple terms, in a ‘this is a threat and I am justified in neutralising it because it is self defence’ kind of way. I had a bad feeling the book would end bloodily throughout just because of the frightening ease with which he could strike out if one wrong move was made. While it was informative I don’t relish being uncomfortable while reading and this is the effect this book had on me. But maybe that’s just me, perhaps that is the point of the novel, to make us uncomfortable for a time because people like Christopher are never truly allowed to be comfortable.There is a chapter where Christopher talks us through a recurring dream he has where all the people in the world that are what we would consider normal die out whilst the ‘special ones’ as he calls those like himself live on. Its saddening because all he wants is to be left alone but it’s also disturbing because in his explanation he shows that in order to be alone he wouldn’t mind if people had to die, doesn’t show any remorse.
It’s not possible to understand completely how people with autism think, but this book gives us a hint of an idea. While aspects of Haddon’s portrayal of autism are frightening from our prospective it is (or can be viewed as) normal, even logical, to those who have it. From reading ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, we gain an understanding of difficult life can be on both the parents and the children and through this understanding gain a deeper acceptance of this affliction.