Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

I bought this book in the morning, but I only started reading it in the evening of the same day; -I opened it, smelled it and saw that it begins with the second chapter. Hm... Perhaps a badly bounded copy and they left the first chapter out? I turn a few pages and still I couldn't find the first chapter. Then I notice that a third chapter follows the second and a fifth chapter follows the third. And it occurs to me that the chapters are prime numbers.

"Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical, but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your life thinking about them." This is how Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old, explains why he's decided to use prime numbers for the chapters of his book. Christopher is not like any other boy, he's remarkably reflective, completely uninterested in girls, has in-depth knowledge of physics and mathematics, nearly perfect recall (memory) and often doesn't understand what people are trying to say. Although Christopher doesn't say it himself, the reader soon realizes that he's autistic. Christopher devises patterns according to which he sets his mood and chooses foods he likes, he doesn't like to be touched by other people and has difficulties deciphering meaning behind sentences. He needs a very structured, minute by minute schedule and he needs to check his watch constantly (to know what the time is) to feel safe.

Autists fascinate me, because things that seem easy and self-explanatory to us are incomprehensible to them. The following passage explains what I mean more fully: "But when you get married it is because you want to live together and have children, and if you get married in a church you have to promise that you will stay together until death do us part." Autists have problems detecting and expressing feelings (going beyond learned politeness) and their lives feel empty to us (reading the book, you are constantly reminded that there's something lacking). That's why autists have problems understanding normal conversations - a big part of what we say is marked by feelings and that is the part they're unable to receive and correctly decode. Autists thus understand words as they are, without the emotional connotation.

The lacking emotions are what the book manages to convey best. It's an interesting introspective into the life of an Asperger child, introducing to a wider audience the topic of autistic thinking. A lovely attempt with simple language and a whodunnit atmosphere; all in all a charming book - so short or so interesting you can read it in one sitting.

But not all is lost for Christopher, because he has devised a plan for his future, too; and mind you, he will do exactly as he says, because he never lies (again, people who don't have feelings lose the cause for lying).

"Then, when I've got a degree in Maths, or Physics, or Maths and Physics, I will be able to get a job and earn lots of money and I will be able to pay someone who can look after me and cook my meals and wash my clothes, or I will get a lady to marry me and be my wife and she can look after me so I can have company and not be on my own."


posted by Nadezhda | 16:53


Blogger Nadezhda said...

Bo - my Big Read list is as follows: 1 2 5 7 10 12 15 18 22 23 24 30 35 36 40 41 43 46 47 51 56 58 60* 64 74 75 85 98 112 114 117 118 128 145 161 164 166 169 171 173 179 180 189 195. I'm not certain about (having really read or just started?) some books and I didn't include them in the list.

Hope this helps for whatever article and statistical analysis you're planning.

Blogger Bo said...

Nadezhda: thank you a lot for this list! It feels especially great to get it from you.

Your current post seems very interesting on a quick glance, but it requires from me a different time and place to delve into it as it deserves.

But ... (going through an enormous mental undertake of resetting the language mode) ... toda, vaju z ill-advised bi rad opozoril, da sem k svojemu zapisu o Jonatanu dodal 18. komentar.

Saluti da Padova

Blogger ill-advised said...

This does sound like an interesting book. From your description of these autistic people, I couldn't help wondering if some of their difficulties do not also plague me, although thankfully in a very much milder form. I might as well try reading it some time.

Does it have any other connection to the Sherlock Holmes stories, besides the fact that the title is taken from one of them?

Incidentally, your Big Read signature seems quite impressive. I notice that I've only read 14 books from BBC's Top 200 list. Now I'm not sure whether I should feel vaguely embarrassed or consider this a cause to complain against their selection of books :)

vaju z ill-advised bi rad opozoril, da sem k svojemu zapisu o Jonatanu dodal 18. komentar.

Hja, lepo od tebe. Vsekakor ti želim prijetno ukvarjanje s temi vprašanji še naprej, če so ti v veselje. Meni se pa načeloma ne da še naprej pregovarjati o teh zadevah.

Anonymous OwcA said...

For me the list is a complete letdown. I love Pratchett and Dahl to the point of worship, one of each sure, but this is ridiculous. Too much SF and fantasy, most of it being over-hyped and over-popularised. Where are the Japanese, the Scandinavians, the Swiss, ...? A play here and there, maybe even some poetry wouldn't go amiss either. I deem "T200 Amazon bestsellers" a title much more befitting.

Blogger Nadezhda said...

ill-advised - I find it a very interesting book, because the author tries to write like autists think and he tries to show how they percieve their surroundings. I rather think he must have an autistic child or know one well, because otherwise it would be very difficult to write a book like this. And yes, there is a connection to Holmes, because Christopher's favourite book is The Hound of Baskervilles; again he finds a mystery much easier to read (the only question being who did it - there are few if any emotions envolved) than he would a romance novel.

Perhaps I should also say that autists can learn what some feelings mean, but I doubt that they feel it the way we do. Also, autism is a specter rather than a diagnosis as uniform as flu. Autists can seem pretty normal or they can seem really special. Christopher is amazingly well adapted to his surroundings, because he is so intelligent, but that does not mean he knows how to deal with feelings. When he does feel something, his reaction is physical, not emotional.

As for my Big Read signature, I should add that I'm not a fan of any sorts of reading lists. I've read quite a few books in my life but on some lists the percentage I've read will be smaller than on others. The selection of books seems to be done in majority by children/adolescents, because I rather expected such an attempt to have at least one Woolf book in, but there's no sign of Orlando or Mrs. Dalloway.

You seem to read many biographies and historical books, so I do not wonder at all that you only have 14 books from the list. As I said, it shouldn't worry you too much. On a "200 best historical books of all time" you'd probably have many more hits than I would.

Owca - I agree that the list isn't very objective, but how can one be objective when it comes to books? The fact that this research was conducted in UK probably explains why there's such a predominance of English writers.

I only did this because Bo asked me and not because I would place much importance in reading books from lists. :)

Anonymous ch'i said...

Pratchett and Dahl (may they bask in eternal sunshine) and some other authors with half the repertoire on that list, what Ulysses is doing there is a question that will probably trouble me for another hour. Judging by the average book (assumption based on the contents of approximately half the books), it's standing out like a sore thumb (if nothing else, the number of people who actually read the damn thing is far from comparable). Oh dear, oh dear. It makes me want to start writing a blog.

And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. :)

(since this seems quite a reliable medium and I'm not up to picking up a telephone before I forget: Nadezhda, do you have some time for the good oldfashioned book discussion over tea and cookies [optional]?)

I feel so much better now. Thank you. Thank you. :)

Blogger Nadezhda said...

"I feel so much better now. Thank you. Thank you. :)"

I know, that's why I'm here. ;)

Blogger Bo said...

It seems to me that you've connected with the book and its autistic hero.
This is what I like about you, I shall call this insighty from now on, and I hope that you will keep making this blog beautiful with more such book reviews.
The same kind of things have been going through my mind. I am sure that we, the so-called normal beings, can't fully comprehend the autistic ones, but we can try. The reward in my opinion is the warm assurance that one doesn't have to go strictly onwards to fulfill himself, and that in going sideways happiness can be reaped.

You know what, you really inspired me to open this book again and write my thoughts on autism, on my personal experience, on the prime numbers and such. That would feel great to me.

Anonymous Master Kidderminster said...

A truly beautiful book. I have read it in English and Czech so far, and should I go on to attempt other languages (something my ADD* brain makes likely) this will no doubt be one of the first books I will turn to. I touches me deeply and has made me cry more than once.

I grew up fulfilling all of the criteria of Asperger's disorder, the high-functioning form of autism Christopher Boone manifests in the book, and currently work with students with Asperger's and ADD, as well as other such neurodevelopmental disorders. My own belief is that people with these disorders eminently can learn to understand other's mood states, feelings and motivations, though this may very well be on a more intellectual than instinctual level. I believe I did so myself by becoming interested in writing following a breakdown, and so, essentially studying people.

I think I read in a review one time that Mark Haddon himself worked with autistic individuals in London before making it as a writer, illustrator and script writer. I recommend his website (though, apologies, I am too tired and have too poor an internet connection/too temperamental a computer to find the link myself right now.)

* Attention Deficit Disorder

Blogger Nadezhda said...

Master Kidderminster - welcome!

I do know what ADD and Asperger's are. I it widely known that children with Asperger's are encouraged to learn how to interact socially, even though as you pointed out - it doesn't come naturally to them. As for the book: it touched me deeply, though it did not move me to tears. And I did read somewhere that Haddon used to work with autistic children.

Thank you for your input, please forgive my late reply and please, drop by again.

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