By Mark Haddon
Haddon provides a window into the autistic mind by writing a short murder mystery in the first person. The story teller is Christopher, a bright 15 year-old autistic boy. Christopher loves science and is probably a math savant. He observes an astonishing number of every-day details, and is also overwhelmed by the hyper-awareness of his own brain. He has absolutely no ability to feel human empathy or emotions other than fear. He hates being touched, and prefers radio static (white noise) to the sound of humans talking. He craves order and familiarity yet can learn and recall an amazing amount of facts. He is nearly incapable of living with humans, including his loving but dysfunctional parents.
The story revolves around the murder of a neighborhood dog, which Christopher discovers one day. He loves dogs, and indeed most animals, greatly preferring them to humans since animals never lie. Christopher also cannot lie. He sets out to play detective, hoping to solve the murder mystery, and in the process revealing much about his life and those who love him. The story is well-told, taking the reader on frequent detours in which Christopher explains some mathematical or logical facts completely unrelated to the story, which is how his mind works all the time.
After a few hundred pages of such detours, the reader learns how difficult it must be to live with an autistic person, and how those with autism find the rest of us equally difficult. When informed of his own mother’s death, Christopher gives an emotionless account of the facts surrounding the death, then without the slightest trace of sadness or loss, switches to an unrelated topic.
Christopher is aware of his condition and realizes that he is not like others. He explains how normal brains filter out most information, automatically focusing on a few details that each of us learn to ‘see’. The autistic brain has no such filters, so for these individuals, the everyday world is a harrowing bombardment of stimulus that makes them want to crawl into a hole and hide. The recurring dream that Christopher has, the one that makes him happiest, is that all other humans on Earth have died and he is all alone other than animals.
Overall a very well-written book that teaches a bit about autism and helps us feel empathy for those with a condition that prevents them from returning the sentiment.