Mark Haddon (no significant spoillers)

Charles Butler hannibal at
Fri Feb 6 04:21:38 EST 2004

> Ooh, what do you think of Mark Haddon's book?  I heard a couple of
> episodes of it on the radio last year and thought it was great, but I
> found the style quite difficult to get into when I tried reading it
> myself.

I still have fifty pages to go... but I don't think my opinion's going to
change much, having read the last page first (this too is a reader's
right!). It's very well done, very clever, very engaging. Haddon has done a
really good job in immersing himself in the autistic way of looking at the
world, as far as I understand it, knowing no more of the condition than what
I pick up from the Sunday supplements. At first I was worried that the
premiss of an autistic character choosing to write a book was implausible,
but Haddon gets around that well, and he strikes a good balance between a)
having the narrator be unreliable, because he is a poor judge of other
people's motivation; b) having the narrator's logic and honesty allow him to
see what most people would be too distracted or self-deluding to notice.

The main problem with the book - and I haven't quite decided about this - is
its monotonal character (not quite the same as monotony!). The narrating
voice hasn't got much emotional range, so Haddon has to supply that in other
ways - through clever pacing, through other people's dialogue (and in this
book, for once, the convention of a narrator having total recall of his
conversations is literally plausible), and through the character's physical
symptoms. I think he manages it on the whole: and of course the
relentlessness of the narrator's voice and thought processes *is* part of
the point.

I enjoyed his digressions, too, some of which I guiltily recognized from my
own boyhood (or later!). In fact I've used what the narrator calls the Monty
Hall problem for years now in my seminar on Bacon's *Novum Organon* as a
demonstration of what is meant by an Idol of the Tribe. But I'll say no more
on that, because that is a kind of spoiler, I guess.


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