Struggling rural writer hits big time with bestselling insight into the autistic mind
Given that Mark Haddon’s second novel, ‘A Spot of Bother’ has been gracing the current top ten paperback chart for several weeks now, it might seem a rather curious incident that this review is of his first piece of adult fiction, published in 2003. Narrated by the fifteen year old Christopher Boone, a mathematical genius with Asperger’s syndrome, Haddon’s first novel is a remarkable insight into the workings of an emotionally remote teenage mind, a modern must-read far superior in its ability to change the way we see the world than his latest offering, which brims with the same perceptive, cheerful wit but lacks the endearingly odd narrative that sets ‘The Curious Incident’ apart.
And it really has been set apart: an estimated 10million copies sold in 42 countries, winner of 16 different literary accolades, including the Whitbread; all this for a farmer’s son from Rutland whose first five self-confessed ‘breathtakingly bad’ novels remained unpublished whilst Haddon explored his many other talents: illustrating, children’s writing, poetry, television adaptations, but always with the sense that he had his ‘little cold face pressed to the window pane of the house of literature.’
The painstakingly literal interpretation of the adult world as invoked by Christopher in ‘The Curious Incident’ has propelled Haddon through the window of literary acclaim, all as the result of the strange image of a dog impaled on a pitchfork that popped into his head one day. It is this same dog that inspires the autistic Christopher to write a murder mystery for his school project, after he uncovers the unfortunate animal on his neighbour’s lawn one night.
Whilst endlessly humourous due to the dramatic irony of Christopher’s absolute inability to understand the illogical complexities of human emotion, Haddon credibly avoids patronising or romanticising the autistic condition. When Christopher’s father tells him his mother is dead, he records his scrabble score and notes that his dinner was spaghetti in tomato sauce: how does one sympathise with someone so incapable of feelings? Haddon paints a portrait of a familiar world, a mediocre middle-England of spaghetti hoops, cheap sweets and Coronation Street omnibuses, but in the strangest of colours. This book will simultaneously humour and consume you, but it might also make you think about things a little differently, too.