I read A Spot of Bother by the same author before reading this one, which is arguably the more critically acclaimed of the two. As I mentioned in the other’s review, a friend had recommended this book to me many years ago, but I never got around to reading it. There were many reasons, but chiefly it was because the opening scene is one of a dog murder.
I wouldn’t say I have an appetite for violence in stories – quite the opposite in fact – but I am able to reasonably hold myself together when the casualties are human. The trembling and wavering starts with violence against children and infants, but really gets unbearable when dogs and animals are victims. The helplessness and mute terror do me in. So this book stayed on the shelf, unread, for a long time.
Author: Mark Haddon
Story: Christopher is a 15-year old teenager with Asperger’s. He sees that his neighbour’s dog has been killed with a pitchfork one night, and sets out to investigate. He lives with his father and attends a school for children with special needs.
His investigation into the dog’s murder reveals a lot of hidden secrets in his life, forces him to deal with situations he finds very difficult, and finally sends him on a journey that changes everything.
Writing: The story is told in first-person narrative from Christopher’s point of view. As with all first-person narratives, it is intended to reveal more about the narrator than the scenes they describe. And in that, the writing really shines through.
I have never encountered anyone with autism, let alone with Asperger’s syndrome. Or if I have, I didn’t realise it. For me, the book provided extraordinary insight into the workings of a mind not quite like everyone else’s. I didn’t know that autistic people feel pain when they are overwhelmed. It was quite revelatory and shocking.
Therefore, I found the writing to be exquisite. Surprising, since I didn’t quite like the other book.
Characters: Another thing I learned: just because someone is differently abled doesn’t automatically make them a likeable person. Yes, there needs to be compassion and understanding when dealing with them, but they don’t need to become your best friend. Because I didn’t warm to Christopher. At all.
Nor the others for that matter. Each of the so-called adults in Christopher’s life, barring Siobhan, are selfish and struggling to cope with his condition. The struggle is real, because his eccentricities are difficult to comprehend or to consider. But honestly, none of them are the major sufferer, so can they please just get over themselves? There is very little about triumph of character in this book. Can’t there be a single person who can rise to the occasion and be, well, awesome? Well, in Mark Haddon’s books, the answer is a resounding NO.
Pace: Amazingly well paced. It isn’t an eventful book, but traversing the mind of Christopher is an adventure in itself. Utterly fascinating.
Conclusion: I’m glad I swallowed my inhibitions and read this one. It was eye-opening for me, and will help me become a little more empathetic in my dealings with people. I would say that is a successful outcome, even if I didn’t enjoy the book. Which I absolutely did. The book is amazing: easy to read, intriguing premise, well narrated, and unusual. All excellent ingredients for a book. Good read.