This book was on my ‘To Read’ was a looong time – and finally I got around to it…
Christopher Boone is fifteen and has Asperger’s Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.
This short book caused a huge fuss when it first came out in 2003 – and having finally read it, I now know why. Haddon has managed to masterfully inhabit the skin of a teenager who cannot cope with human emotions, suffers from sensory overload and compensates by retreating into mathematical formulae and logical list-making. As a result, when confronted by major events – like being told of the death of his mother, for instance – Christopher tells us what he had to eat that evening and that he went to bed and fell fast asleep.
This doesn’t mean that Christopher is incapable of loving – but that he finds it difficult to understand or relate to his feelings. So when he discovers Wellington, the standard poodle who lives next door, skewered by a garden fork to the lawn, he resolves to find out who murdered it – even when told repeatedly by his father that he mustn’t interfere. He even overcomes his reluctance to engage with strangers in order to ask if anyone has seen anything suspicious – trouble is, he cannot process the heavy hints that a well-meaning neighbour gives him about his own domestic set-up. His inability to process information that the reader clearly understands gives us greater insights into Christopher’s capacity to engage with the world, while also providing some comedy, albeit the darker, lump-in-your-throat variety. Books that make me both want to weep and laugh hold a special place in my heart – and this one joins that select few.
Haddon not only manages to give us an idea of what it must be like to experience the world while coping with Asperger’s – he also provides us with the daily challenges facing Christopher’s carers. I found myself wondering how you’d survive when the strong-willed, highly intelligent individual in your life retreats into black silence when he encounters a series of the wrong coloured cars on his morning bus ride…
But don’t go away with the notion that this is some worthy, high-mindedly literary attempt to give the rest of us an appreciation of what being born with Asperger’s can entail – the story that powers Christopher’s narration is a mystery. And while we learn who did do it, we also learn what the strains were that led up to the deed and Christopher’s unwitting role in the whole affair. It will be a book that will stay with me for a very long time – and if you want an outstanding example of character-led fiction, then this is a must-read book. Come to think of it – this is a must-read book, anyway.