Mark Haddon, 2003.
What a fun book. Like The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, it’s a story about the effect of a “special needs” child on a family and a terrible deception, but unlike MKD this story is well-written, smart, and entertaining. Let’s compare and contrast with The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, which I hated.
1.) How the mystery is handled. Unlike MKD, which starts by telling you exactly who did what, Curious Incident starts with the discovery of the existence of the mystery, and then the plot involves the narrator investigating and reflecting on the recent past and exploring the present while trying to figure out what happened. My curiosity kept me engaged with the story as it progressed; I kept reading because I wanted to find out what had happened and what would happen. In MKD, that simple pleasure had been removed by the lack of en media res and the the stupid spoilery dustjacket that summarized the main plot points of the story.
2.) The narrator’s voice. So well done! The narrator of Curious Incident is a high-functioning autistic teenager, and everything is told in his voice and explained as he sees the world. It’s funny and interesting, and I always like reading a story with an unreliable narrator because you get the extra entertainment of figuring out how their version of their world is different from the “real” version. Having a personal insight into the mind of the main character makes them more likable and makes the story more involving because you care what happens to them. I didn’t care if any of the robots in MKD ever achieved personal happiness. Although I knew which ones would, because, again, of the dust jacket.
3.) “Redemptive power of love”. The father in Curious Incident doesn’t go around navel-gazing and reflecting on his woeful lot as a parent of a “special needs” child, or his own personal tragedy, he just tries to do his best. His emotions aren’t detailed in long descriptive passages, but implied by his actions, which is a particularly effective technique since the narrator can’t interpret emotions instinctively and has to figure out how people feel by observing them. I thought the father was very believable and likable, even when he was obviously making horrible mistakes.
4.) The title. It’s so perfect for the book. It references the details of the mystery which opens the book (a dog is found dead) and ties in with both the narrator’s actions (he decides to investigate the dog’s death) and the narrator’s interests (he likes Sherlock Holmes). And the narrator likes Sherlock Holmes because the detective’s misanthropy and meticulous attention to detail are similar to the kid’s social dysfunction and hypersensitivity to stimuli. See, it works on a few levels. And like the book, the title is clever and funny.
The book is full of wonderful diagrammatic illustrations with which the narrator explains his view of the world, and there’s an appendix detailing the proof of an A-levels math question, which was way over my head. The whole book is touching but lighthearted, and very enjoyable.