This book was recommended to me when I started working with an autistic child, as a way of snatching a bit of insight into the autistic mind. While certainly providing such a glimpse, Mark Haddon also weaves an engaging tale of mystery and love. Christopher, an autistic teenager, relates the story of how he found his neighbor’s dog dead in the middle of the night.
He is writing a murder mystery for you, the reader (although the mystery of the dead dog quickly transforms into a deluge of family secrets), and he puts in things he thinks you might find interesting, such as his entire daily schedule, or a diagram of a double-decker bus. Thoughtfully, he relegates the solution to a rather complicated math problem to the appendix, because his support worker suggests that perhaps you, the reader, will not find it as riveting as he does. Christopher’s autism, aside from lending credence to his relentless pursuit of the facts, offers a unique perspective on human relationships. As he struggles to understand why rain should depress someone who works all day indoors, or how to ‘chat’ with a family friend, the reader is forced to analyze various social norms which are often left unexamined.
With precise, unwavering attention to detail from a boy who ‘can’t tell lies’ (because only one thing can actually have happened , and telling a lie starts him thinking about the plenitude of things that didn’t happen, which makes him ill) Haddon offers a suggestion of what it might be like to be autistic. The story takes several emotionally-laden loops, but its teller relays them all with a decided lack of pathos. From his formulaic ‘and then she said…and then I said’ dialogue, to his descriptions of emotional symptoms and coping methods rather than the feelings themselves, Haddon lets us see how Christopher’s priorities differ from mine or…well, mine (can’t speak for you). An altogether engrossing and informative read.