In the press this morning is an interview with Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. He’s expressing concerns about the book being used to pigeonhole every person that has Aspergers or Autism, and being used as a guide on how to “deal with” such people. I can see where he’s coming from, but I also think that anything that can raise awareness can only be a good thing.
I know this book has been out for aeons, and in fact I’ve owned it for eons having snapped it up from a charity shop at a bargain price. But, for some reason, I only got round to reading it a couple of months back. Every time I’ve picked it up, it hasn’t felt like the right time. It wasn’t right for my holiday, It wasn’t right for a Sunday afternoon on the balcony. It wasn’t right for my lunch break at work.
And then I realised it would never be “the right time”, and in fact I just had to bite the bullet and start it.
I’m really glad I did. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before – simple but deep, lighthearted yet challenging; it’s impossible to categorise. Centring around Christopher, a 15 year old boy, living with his Dad, who you’re lead to believe is on the autistic spectrum (this is also mentioned on the book blurb), it follows his interaction with every day life following the dog incident alluded to in the title. Christopher is both pragmatic and dogmatic (no pun intended) in his approach to the circumstances he experiences, with an unyielding zest for truth and determination to reveal it. His unusual emotional responses to those around him are revealing in their honesty, and do give the reader an insight and understanding into a different way of life from a minds eye point of view.
I personally have never met anyone diagnosed with Autism or Aspergers, but have seen programmes like The Undateables – intended to give people with disabilities or differences a platform to show their similarities to everyone else (I personally don’t agree with that program – it’s cheapshot program making designed purely for ratings, but that’s another story). I think that the more mainstream people can make these differences, through art, written word and media, then the more accepting we become as a society. OK, so Christopher is a literary figure rather than an actual person, but there are kids out there like him who’s behaviour is misunderstood, considered odd, and hence they’re victimised because of it.
While author Mark Haddon never specifically refers to any disability in the book – instead describing Christopher as a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties – the characteristics do lend themselves to that conclusion. However, in a literal sense, the book is more about someone who sees things in a different way and, for me, promotes understanding of “difference” rather than a specific disability.
I don’t know the target audience of the TCIOTDITN (yes I did have to look at each word of the title to create the initialism, and I then had to Google to remind myself what it was called – brain failure – I was actually thinking acronym but that’s only when the letters form a word, which is not the case here). I do, however, believe that it’s accessible and enjoyable for young and old. The subject matter is touching, meaning that you really care how the story progresses and what the outcome is (essential for true enjoyment of any book, at least for me). I think, although I’m not sure Mark Haddon would agree based on the interview, it would be useful as a curriculum text in schools as there are so many discussion points around the character. And I think it’s important that there are mainstream books that are based around all different types of people to encourage acceptance – David Walliams’ “The Boy in the Dress” being a great example.
Education through literature is so very important in reaching audiences of all ages, as the author is able to give a real understanding of the character that can’t be articulated visually; through their thoughts and feelings and emotions. The emotional side of people who are “different” is so commonly discounted, but yet it’s this emotional side that connects us all – regardless of the things that set us apart.
A colleague recently saw the theatre production of the book and said it was amazingly well done and very touching. I know there are also talks about a film (which seems to be the norm these days when a book is successful). Personally I’m not sure I would want to see either, as the book is powerful and stand alone enough for me – I prefer to see the story in my minds eye than physically in front of me (and books so rarely live up to the film anyway – Hollywood will probably “Hollywood-ise” it and “cure” Christopher for a happy ending…much cynical gnashing of teeth…)