Written by: Mark Haddon
“2. It was seven minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden form sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden form into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.”
Thus starts the beginning of the novel. You might wonder if it is a detective story as the logic of the narrative is clear (there is a death and it is not natural). The language is simple – straight, direct and logical – no great literary prose.
Because it is told by a by Christopher John Francis Boone, a fourteen-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome – a condition where those afflicted have no empathy, do not understand feelings but in many other ways are extremely talented.
Christopher, for example, knows all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7057. Those who are observant might notice the first chapter of the book starts with 2. This is because all the chapters are prime numbers – chapters 2, 3 5, 7, 11 and so on. Funny!
It is a kind of detective story because Christopher is in the quest of finding who killed Mrs. Sheares’s dog. Christopher lives with his father who has separated from his mother. Because Asperger’s children are very difficult to manage, his father has huge difficulty bringing him up. There is constant bickering between them. The only person who can relate well is Siobhan a teacher at his special school, who understands him. Their conversation consists of many pictures which are all illustrated by the author.
In the process of looking for the killer of the dog, Christopher manages to find his way to London to look for his mother. The adult conversations between the father, mother and new relationships are entirely confusing to Christopher as he tries to cope.
The book really enlightens the reader and puts them in the shoes of a child with Asperger’s and how they navigate in the realm of the adult world which they find confusing and contradictory. With their very logical mind, they just cannot comprehend the subtleties of adult conversations and feelings. Read it just to have a better understanding of Asperger’s is well worth it.
Mark Haddon, the author and illustrator won the Whitbread Book of the year in this debut novel. The book is very short – less than 200 pages. It can be finished in two good evenings and as the cover proclaims …. “a stunningly good read”
Anyone who would like a podcast of the book which was delivered over BBC about two years ago can get in touch with the editor and I can email it over.