Told from the point of a view of a teenage boy with autism (perhaps Aspergers) this novel is a great way for us to recognize the predetermined ways in which we view the world. The idea that we are free to make whatever choices we want is an appealing thought (especially to first year college students), but indeed our choices are directed by physical, social, emotional, and even spiritual dilemmas. To steal from the speaker of the second book I'm discussing, he likes to quote "We are all prisoners in unlocked cells." In other words, we have created and have created for us our own boundaries and the only thing holding us back are our own decisions. Of course, this is only partially correct. As for Christopher (the main character in The Curious Incident) he has no choice in some of the walls which surround him. His creativity is in learning how to work within the limits he faces.
The story is a billed by Christopher himself as a murder-mystery, but since the murder is solved rather undramatically half way through the book, this is clearly not the focus. The story starts with murder of a neighborhood dog and Christopher's decision to solve the mystery. In the process we learn that his mother has died, his father raises him alone, and he is brilliant in the area of mathematics. He always never mixes the food on his plate, hates the color yellow, and has decided that color of cars he sees in the morning determines what kind of day he will have. I could say more, but as the plot unfolds the surprises are interesting enough to leave to those of you who have not read it.
A fan of Sherlock Holmes stories (as am I -- see week eight!) he decides to pursue the case through Holmesian methods. In fact, the title of the book is inspired by the short story "The Silver Blaze" in which a prize racehorse is stolen. When Holmes remarks on the curious behavior of the dog in night time, Watson asks what is so curious -- he did not even bark. That, says Holmes, is what is curious. In other words, look at the obvious and question it and look for what is not there. This makes sense since Christopher deals in logic and mathematics -- life is black and white to him. But of course, there is nothing logical about not liking yellow or letting car colors determine your day. In Christopher's mind this makes sense, but not to anyone else.
Once the murder mystery is resolved the focus becomes on Christopher's attempts to overcome his own limitations. Crossing a strange room is taxing for him, so he imagines a line leading across and then follows the way. Crowds overwhelm him so he waits them out until only a few people are around. He succeeds by handling each new situation one at a time and pulling back when he needs to think. In other words, he builds on his strengths and works around his walls.
The novel has garnered a lot of praise for a variety of reasons, including getting in the mind of an autistic person to see how the mind may work. Haddon worked with autistic children for some time so he may know more than most, but of course we need the autistic people to speak for the themselves (and this has been done). But that does not matter to Haddon because he does not see this as a work about autism. From his own blog: curious incident is not a book about asperger’s. it’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. indeed he never uses the words ‘asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (i slightly regret that fact that the word ‘asperger’s’ was used on the cover). if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. it’s as much a novel about us as it is about christopher.
And therein lies the strength. In many ways Christopher is like a poet seeing the world in new and unique ways and we see how the world treats and handles this uniqueness. What is great about Christopher is he never questions himself and how he sees himself. How many of us can say the same? He is different, it is frustrating at times, but in the end he works with what he has.
It is a book worth reading on many levels and for many reasons. But it should definitely be read.