Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A curious review

Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old living in a small town in the UK, suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic condition. He has two gifts: a photographic memory and he is a whiz at maths.
But on the negative side he just can't understand emotions. Metaphors like "He is the apple of my eye" go above his head. He finds people confusing. And because of all this, he is, in a way, an unreliable narrator.
But Christopher can't tell lies. He seems incapable of doing so. In using him as his narrator, Mark Haddon, in a light-hearted, warped and funny fashion, makes a commentary on adult relationships, particularly the failed marriage of Christopher's parents.
Christopher claims he can't tell jokes. He says he doesn't understand them. But the book itself is quite funny. Plumbing Christopher's innocence to its full potential, Haddon offers a delightful criticism of the oddities of human life.
Christopher doesn't like to be touched. He hates yellow and brown, and can't eat anything in that colour. He constantly dreams of going into outer space. Christopher loves Sherlock Holmes but hates its author Arthur Conan Doyle for his superstitious beliefs. He is investigating the murder of Wellington, the dog that lived across the street, which is gruesomely killed using a garden fork. But this investigation is really not into the murder of a dog, which is clear even as you begin reading the book. This is just a pretext to portray the life of an autistic person and of a world seen through his eyes.
For instance, Christopher often recalls his harrowing journey to France. He says that he was unable to relax like other people because he sees everything. At one time, there is a detailed description of every cow that stand in a group on a field. Christopher's memory is indeed that photographic.
The book is filled with pictures, maps, puzzles, digressions, and is a seemingly hotchpotch affair. But these are actually devices used to offer an insightful glimpse into the life of a boy suffering with Asperger's, though the disease is never mentioned by name in the book.
Christopher lives with his father, as his mother is dead (or is she?). Halfway through the book, Christopher learns who killed Wellington and why. It's then that the book really takes off and begins to talk of the things that it wanted to say in the first place.
By the time the book ends, we realise that Christopher, for all the lack of emotional IQ, innocence and naivety, is actually a model for decent and practical adult behavior.

(When I put this up on desicritics.com, I was rapped for writing a synopsis and not a review. I agreed and then decided on this title. It's all a mess anyway.)