Mark Haddon, 2004, Vintage Press
“The first important book with an autistic hero” trumpets a review on the front jacket of this book. Yet by my reckoning, looking at the story from that standpoint would make it too easy to dismiss the book as a gimic. Hey — there haven’t been any popular novels told from the perspective of an autistic kid — what a niche! While this may have come into Haddon’s mind at some point, it would be missing the point to summarize the book thusly.
This is a story of discovery from the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator. The narrator is a boy discovering the circumstances of his parents’ marital troubles. That he is an autistic boy, and that his autism contributes to the tension and events, just makes the journey of discovery more complicated and more involved. That he’s high-functioning (as autistic boys go) makes the story tellable, and reduces the requirements for suspension of disbeleief; yet it could just have well been told from the perspective of some other clueless kid of around the same age, and still been a good story.
It’s an easy book to read, and has the added educational benefits of describing some of the characteristics of autism in a way that’s accessible and comprehensible. I found myself sympathetic to the narrator, even to the extent of his hatred of the color brown (which, after all, is too close to the dreaded color yellow).