I read this book when it was lent to me by a dear friend, who has a knack of picking up new books and experimenting with authors, something which I have learnt from her. Despite her non – literature background she is one of the few well-read people I know, who take a keen interest in current literature.
The book was released in 2003 but I read it much later. This, according to Wikipedia, was Haddon’s first attempt at adult fiction, and I believe this book was published in two different forms one for the children and the other for adults. I am not sure which edition I read. But I have posted the picture of the cover of the book I did read.
The book follows Christopher John Francis Boone, a young boy whose symptoms and behavior suggest he has a mild form of autism, perhaps Asperger’s Syndrome. There is a bit of controversy with the autistic community unhappy about how the book describes the disease.
This is not a typical book review and hence I will not give a summary of the story with spoilers. I will only concentrate upon one or two things that have lingered in my mind, after reading the book.
Christopher has a unique perspective, it’s perhaps his special condition that causes him to see the world in an uncommon way, and much of the novel allows the reader to share this. In many of the chapters there is digression from the main plot, to give us Christopher’s thoughts or feelings on a particular subject, such as physics or the supernatural. Since he is the narrator he tells us about the trouble he has recognizing facial expressions and the difficulty he had as a child understanding how other people respond to a given situation, explaining his preference for being alone that we see throughout the novel. The novel implies that Christopher’s eccentricities are actually typical to a degree. As a result, the reader is able to take on Christopher’s perspective as his own and to understand Christopher’s reasons for behaving as he does. Christopher’s point of view loses its strangeness and seems merely unique.
Christopher has an urgent need to see the world as orderly, and he has a very low tolerance for disorder. However, this is exactly why he is unable to perhaps see the complex tangle of relationships within his family. In his journey to London to see his mother, the disorder of the massive urban landscape he passes through, symbolizes the disorder he faces in his family.
The actual plot of a murder mystery creates another symbolism, the one of coping with loss associated with death. Christopher’s reaction to the murder of the dog is to try and find the murderer. This in turn triggers his memory of coping with the loss of his mother, who he thought had died. In fact, the motif of death is intricately interwoven into the story, first triggered by the abandonment by his mother, his belief that his mother was dead, which resulted in his father’s violent coping mechanism, which in turn opens the reality to Christopher about his mother.
I spoke before of the need for Christopher to have logic and order in his life. Many times in the book his thoughts go off tangent, away from the murder mystery into his inner world where he finds solace and calmness in thinking of Logic puzzles, math problems, and maps. Something in this made me feel the importance of having an inner world, a corner of mind where one can go for what I like to think as “time out” from the reality that bites.
Finally the main crux of the story is one of achievement and triumph for Christopher, despite his disabilities and difficulties in walking through everyday life, he takes this A level math test which will allow him to university something none of his peers have attempted. By the time he actually takes the test Christopher has had 3 disturbing experiences in his life and in each he has come out on top fighting against the obstacles. This I think is finally the most important takeaway from the book. The book ends in optimism and brings a lot of hope in the reader. Christopher’s struggle for gaining independence may have sparked something in the reader. And in the end when he has overcome his challenges, the reader along with him feels empowered to live a life on one’s own without fearing the obstacles that will stand in the way.
There are times when his excruciating experiences with the world pained me and it was difficult to read, but the book does not dissolve into pessimism nor in sentimentality. There are lessons, there are realizations, there are silver linings in the story – the triumph of Christopher makes the reader think, “if he can, so can I.” This is what retains the book in my memory.
Reference Sources – Google for Book Cover, Sparknotes.com