Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Tuesday, 09 August 2005

Mark Haddon: The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 21:06

[cover]I am finishing so many books at the moment that I hardly find time to write about them all. So in order to catch up on my backlog, the next few review will be rather shorter.

Mark Haddon’s “The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” is a detective story – but a rather unusual one: It is written from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s syndrome is usually described as a “mild form of autism". People with Asperger’s usually have extreme difficulty in social interaction, up to the complete inability to see a situation from another person’s point of view, or complete lack of perception of other people’s feelings and state of mind. Even a slight change in the daily routine may provoke a mental breakdown. At the same time, they are often highly skilled at maths and analytical thinking, which led Wired to label Asperger’s “the geek syndrome”. A flurry of reactions ensued, leading to many people recognizing themselves in the symptom lists and diagnosing themselves as “Asperger"; the most well-known example is Bram Cohen, author of the peer-to-peer filesharing program BitTorrent.

Anyway, back on topic. Christopher is 15 years old, likes order and numbers, especially prime numbers, does not like the colours yellow and brown, and classifies days as “good", “super-good” or “bad” depending on the cars he sees on his way to school. When the neighbour’s dog is brutally murdered, he goes on a journey to find out the miscreant – but which leads him much further, to London by train, and eventually to a reunion with his mother, thought dead for many years.

The book is fascinating in that it allows one a glimpse of what an aspie’s mind might be like, how he might feel like: An entirely logical and literal mind, without feelings or compassion. This view on human customs and behaviour puts many thing into perspective that one takes for granted. It was also a very fast read, since it is written at, well, the mental level of a 15-year-old – so even if you do not enjoy it, it will not take you very long.

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