Mark Haddon’s murder mystery novel (Amazon, Publisher) was recommended by two friends and also conveniently available in the flat, so I put it on top of my reading list. It’s not a typical crime thriller and the victim is no man but a dog named Wellington – but that makes no difference for Christopher, the 15 year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome narrating his investigation of the incident in the book. His condition makes life difficult for him and the people he interacts with – like Mrs Shears who was a bit irritated that Christopher was hugging her now deceased dog, or the policeman who got hit by the boy because he was touching his arm, or his father who takes care of him alone ever since Christopher’s mother died.
It’s also his father who wants him to keep his nose out of other people’s business, but Christopher decides that a murderer needs needs to be found and punished. Although his investigation doesn’t make much progress at first, the reader learns a lot about life with Asperger’s1. Christopher is a very logical person – so he’s good at math, but finds people confusing because they „do a lot of talking without using words“ and also use metaphors which he doesn’t understand. His days need to have a plan and that plan needs to be followed, too many new impressions scare him2, he won’t eat his meal if different foods are touching on his plate, and he dislikes the color yellow so much that four yellow cars in row on his way to school make a black day and he won’t talk to anybody for the rest of the day. Also, instructions to Christopher need to be very specific or he will not understand them. Like with metaphors, he is unable to comprehend the spirit of the law and will always stick to its letter. At least if he feels like it, because he does not always do what he’s told.
However, it’s not this insight into an Asperger’s patient’s life, that makes the book great – it’s good for a while, but 268 pages of it without any additional story is just too much. So, 80 pages in, I was close to putting the book away and if I had just bought it without any recommendation, that probably would’ve happened. What makes the book great, is what comes to pass once Christopher finds out who killed Wellington. Now, he needs to make a decision, but has only bad options. While everybody faces this problem once in a while, Haddon’s writing style made me sympathize with Christopher in his despair.
„And then I realized that there was nothing I could do which felt safe. And I made a picture of it in my head like this.
And then I imagined crossing out all the possibilities which were impossible, which is like in a maths exam, when you look at all the questions and you decide which ones you are going to do and which ones you are not going to do and you cross out all the ones which you are not going to do because then your decision is final and you can’t change your mind.“
I’m not going to spoil the book for you by giving you any of his options or even the one that wasn’t crossed out in the end. All I tell you is that Christopher challenges himself and is really brave – and that maybe we all should take a leaf out of Christopher’s book every now and then.