For my second attempt at a book review I have decided to take a look at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (published by Vintage). Curious Incident is a work of fiction written in the first-person from the perspective of a 15-year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome (an Autism Spectrum Disorder).
The book is, supposedly, a murder mystery in which teenager Christopher Boone sets about investigating the death of a neighbour’s dog. But the ‘murder mystery’ isn’t really the subject of the book, but rather a means for getting into the real story. This is the story of a boy who, due to his condition, has difficulty relating to the ‘normal’ social world. Much of the plot centres on the way he naively attempts to satisfy his enquiring mind while steering his way through family tensions and the well-meant advice of staff at his special school.
The novel has been generally well-received – indeed, it is an international bestseller – but some commentators with first-hand experience of Asperger’s Syndrome have questioned its accuracy in portraying the condition. For readers who would prefer a more authentic account of AS, I would suggest they read Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome by Luke Jackson.
Nonetheless, the confidence of Mark Haddon’s writing means that the central character of Christopher comes over as convincing (allowing for the absence of a more nuanced view of AS) and the story is plotted in a very engaging way.
The major strength of Curious Incident, in my view, lies not in the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of its portrayal of Asperger’s, but in its observation of the ‘normal’ social world of human relationships and interactions. In this sense it stands alongside modern fable, such as Richard Adams’ Watership Down, and some of the more literary examples of science fiction, in placing the reader at a distance from the ‘real’ subject matter. From this distance, the reader is able to see essential themes from a new angle while also being entertained.
Another strength rests in what the book says about the responses of ‘normal’ people to someone with a mental health or neurological condition. These responses range from the impatient refusal to answer questions and well-intentioned deception, all the way through to blatant mockery and hostility.
I must, however, raise another word of caution. Curious Incident is written in a style somewhat reminiscent of Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker books. Wilson’s books are, of course, aimed at children, but while Curious Incident is indeed available in a children’s edition (with a different cover design; the text remains unchanged), it is not suitable for pre-teens due to some of its content (including a very high number of expletives).
Allowing for the two qualifications I have mentioned (its inexact portrayal of Asperger’s and its unsuitability for children), I have no hesitation in recommending this book.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is published by Vintage
Delivered Unto Lions by David Austin is published by CheckPoint Press
For more information visit www.davidaustin.eu