By Mark Haddon.
I am often attracted by stories about dogs, which is what made me pick up this one. I had suggested it for the book group I in but it was turned down, because a lot of the other members had read it. I bought a copy anyway, from a charity shop, and am pleased that I did.
It is written in a different style to, probably, any other book you might read. Christopher Boone, the character from whose perspective the book is written in the first person, is a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. He is exceptionally talented with mathematics, physics and science subjects but has terrible trouble with human relationships and people skills.
Christopher is being brought up by his father, after his mother passed on, and his life revolves around strict routines and lists. Anything that disrupts his routine, even something as simple as meeting a new person, causes anxiety for Christopher and over the years he has developed a number of ways of coping, often with the help of his teacher, Siobhan.
Christopher’s story begins with the eponymous dog of the title being murdered, and I’m not really giving away anything of the story by that remark. This single ‘incident’ is in itself really just the catalyst for what follows and actually plays a relatively small part in the book.
The story could be told in a much shorter book. What makes this into a novel, not a novella, is what we learn about Asperger’s syndrome from Christopher. I you have not got the idea that there is a lot of ‘padding’ around the story. Without Christopher’s descriptions of how he felt and coped with the situations he finds himself in, the tale would lose much of its impact.
Most of us will never feel the kinds of emotions and anxiety Christopher feels, as he deals with situations that to most of us are common, everyday occurrences which we take in our stride. I do not know enough about Asperger’s syndrome to comment on the accuracy of it portrayal, so on that aspect I will be guided by other commentators and reviewers who suggest that the book provides a good insight into a condition.
All in all, a fine book giving us a new kind of hero and a glimpse into a world most of us will not experience and find hard to even imagine. You might not actually laugh and cry as you read this book, especially if, like me, you are fairly unemotional, but I think anyone who picks it up will not put it down without it raising some emotional response and empathy with Christopher. Sometimes he just does what sometimes some of us feel we want to do but restrain ourselves from.