Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book #9: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon

If I've discovered one thing in the course of reading and reviewing books for the Cannonball, this is it: It's much, much harder to review a great book than a bad one. It's so much easier to list all the wrongs of a bad book, to make the review humorous or to rain insults down on an incompetent author. But reviewing a good book? That's always difficult.

This was a great book. It's a story told from the point of view of Christopher Boone, a 15 year old with Asperger's syndrome. He is great at mathematics and very logical, but has little to no social skills and has trouble communicating with anyone he is not familiar with. He lives with his father, a simple man who sometimes loses his temper when he can't understand what Christopher wants.

The story begins with Christopher finding his neighbor's dog dead in the garden. Due to his love of detective stories (because of their use of logic) he decides to investigate the dog's death and find out who killed it. But he runs into trouble when people get angry or bothered by his inquiries, so much so that his father forbids him to continue the investigation. But Christopher, who has trouble understanding people's motivations and non-specific requests, finds a way around his father's orders and continues to investigate. Along the way he finds out some unpleasant things about his father and decides to run away, which throws him into a completely unknown and very confusing world as he tries to find his way around.

It's one of those stories where the things that happen to a protagonist may not be that spectacular or exciting, but because the character is so different and lives in his own little world, just going down an unknown street is an epic adventure. Christopher's voice is so strong that you get completely immersed in his story, feeling his terror at what we would consider every day things, like taking the train or having a conversation with a stranger.

In short, Haddon does a terrific job of showing the workings of Christopher's mind; how he uses his condition to work out problems, in ways that most of us wouldn't even begin to think of. It's hard to say exactly why this book is so great--it's just the way the character is written, the humor of the writing, and how you feel sympathetic of the character without feeling sorry for him. I read that Haddon based Christopher on people he knew who suffered from similar conditions to the character's, and it helped me to appreciate that Haddon doesn't consider his character as inferior, just different. And so, it's a different book from anything I've ever read, and I'm glad I finally decided to read it after many years of having people recommend it to me.

See? That was probably grossly incoherent. It's just damned hard to really explain that "I loved it, but it's hard to describe exactly why--you should just read it" feeling. Specially when any description of the story doesn't really do it justice. So I'll conclude by just saying this: It's a great book. You should read it.

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