Mark Haddon (no significant spoillers)

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at
Fri Feb 6 15:36:33 EST 2004

--- Charles Butler
<hannibal at> wrote:
> Caroline:
> > 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.
> Charlie

I found it a very easy read, it only took me a lunch
break to get most of the way through, and then I
finished by reading a couple of pages between
cataloging books. The portrayal of the viewpoint of an
autistic person seemed good. I did try to persuade an
Aspergis syndrome kid at school to read it but he
wasn't interested. I too liked the digressions, though
there are, iirc, factual errors in some. I choose to
believe that these are because the narrator has
gathered incorrect information rather than poor
research on Haddon's part. The stuff on the Monty Hall
problem is true, or at least it matches what I read
recently on it (in fact only a week before I read the
Haddon book -  in a book called "reckoning with risk"
by Gerd Gigerenzer if you want to follow it up)


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