The kind friend who lent me this book was shocked that I hadn’t come across this book earlier. I denied having seen the book at first but then I held the book in my hands as she vehemently recommended it and realized that I had seen it before. I had picked it up because of its curious name and cover design at a bookstore/ book fair and then placed it back in the shelf because the blurb at the back said- “Winner of Guardian CHILDREN’S fiction prize”. I remember thinking it was a children’s book. It even had pictures in it.
It is a book written from the viewpoint of an autistic kid. The symptoms coincide with Asperger Syndrome but the author does not claim to be an authority on the conditions and doesn’t wish to deal much with the accuracy of medical facts. Nonetheless, he manages to get in the skin of the character, Christopher, who is having trouble keeping up with the normal world. It is a first person narrative and the empathy in the writing has made the book very believable.
The book begins with the death of a dog outside a neighbour’s house. Mrs Shears is a family friend and her dog was dear to Christopher too. So, he decides to decode the mystery by Sherlock-ing all the way through. He is a Sherlock Holmes fan and even recounts the complete plot of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ during his thought process. Much of the narrative is just this character thinking out loud so, it is not the most gripping of suspense thrillers. But, of course, that is not the point of the book. It is an emotional book and will appeal to those who understand simple emotions.
The book has characters like the friendly old lady next door- Mrs Alexander, the neighbour whose dog died- Mrs Shears, the instructor at school- Siobhan; and of course the mother and father of the kid. When seen from the glasses of Christopher, they all seem complex and their behaviours need decoding. It is a joyride because you get involved with the process of decoding the complex bits. It is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You know what it would look like but you still are thrilled to complete the picture. As outsiders to the autistic world, the journey is fascinating and full points to Mark Haddon for creating that world for us.
The protagonist Christopher is not very good at social and emotional situations. He handles them by screaming and throwing a fit of rage. He has developed some unique defence mechanism though. Because math is the opposite of emotion, he distracts him mind by solving complex math problems in his head. He is also sort of a genius and is gifted academically. There are bits in the book where he describes the geeky stuff in detail. The Monty Hall problem is simplified to the level of an average reader and explained with the help of a flow chart. Although a fictional character, I think it would be pretty cool to have him as a teacher. Because he understands the problem layers and complexity poses, he would simplify complex problems and would help one grasp concepts.
We also get a glimpse of the estranged marital world of Christopher’s parents. The characters are grey and it is shown that no one is wrong or right when it comes to dealing with emotions. The amount of patience required is tremendous and there are breakdowns and confrontations which take up a different colour when viewed from the eyes of Christopher. In such a simple language, Haddon paints such a nuanced picture.
I would give the book five stars and a heart. 🙂