Sunday, August 1, 2010

A mystery wrapped inside an enigma


I have a younger brother with autism, and for a time I struggled to understand his condition which made me unable to accept who he is while we were growing up. Fortunately, I managed to read three magnificent books that helped me change the way I view him as a person over the years, and one of them is Mark Haddon's novel about a savant who attempts to solve the murder of his neighbor's dog.

What made me instantly connect with this book are three things: (1) the first-person accounts of the lead character, Christopher Boone whose third name is 'Francis' which is also my brother's; (2) he idolizes Sherlock Holmes like I do; and (3) the logical but also absurd observations and theories that Christopher comes up with to make sense of the world around him.

The narrative voice is peculiar, disjointed and hilarious all at once and that's really the charm of Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Christopher may possess a supreme kind of intelligence but he also has a discernible lack of social graces and that disables him from comprehending the subtleties of daily human interactions. I was also uncomfortably familiar of the tension, disgrace and pain of his home life situation especially since I can contextualize them with my own experiences with Francis (who is not a savant like Christopher at all; he only has the mental capacity of an eight-year-old).

Though the protagonist is apathetic due to his autism, it doesn't make his narrations of his relationships with his father and other people any less painful and confusing for both him and the reader. The power of Haddon's prose is hard to miss; he deliberately highlighted the fears and horrors of a mind like Christopher's so readers will know exactly how it feels to be so blatantly different from everybody else; as if you are a prisoner of your own gifted mind and no one else could ever hope to decipher and unravel you.

More of a character-driven story, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has a ridiculous premise for a plot but it nonetheless has a very emotionally satisfying pay-off for its protagonist. The struggle and journey of Christopher Boone as he tries and fails to understand concepts that are beyond his means but do come easy for ordinary folk like us are worthwhile reading experiences that should not be missed. There is a lot of poignant moments in the book and Christopher's inability to feel the extent of emotional burdens could be strange but it only makes the whole thing sadder for the readers. Still, Christopher is not merely a shell of a person who operates in a different level of logic; he is a real person with real feelings although he can only express them in ways that are unique to his misunderstood yet very enigmatic kind.

I could not be objective about this book personally because I know how it feels to love someone who cannot return your feelings with the same degree and intensity, and I suppose that's why this book resonated inside me. Loving people like Christopher and my brother is never easy but thanks to authors like Haddon who are willing and compassionate enough to tell stories in their points of view, being able to read a story like this makes it less painful for family members and relatives who know the trials and blessings of loving a special child.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10
* It could prove a challenge to understand and relate to Christopher and his inane quirks and mental patterns of thought; but it is an experience you will not trade the world for.