A Curious Incident

Was a somewhat surprising Book Club this month, in that we had our first really divisive novel since I’ve been going. It’s a book which I loved on first reading and enjoyed re-reading, which is not always the case for me. And having spoken to friends about it, not one had an overriding negative view on the book. So it was a turn-up when people started on some heavy criticism as soon as discussion opened.
The book is Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The main complaint about it was that the protagonist was tiresome, difficult and boring. As you probably know, the narrator is a teenage boy who suffers from some sort of learning difficulties (probably Asperger’s syndrome or a form of autism). His interests are in maths and science, and he struggles to interact with people, being unable to read emotions correctly. A lot of the novel is taken up with matter-of-fact prose about maths problems and astronomy which gives us an insight into the way Christopher’s mind works. I found these very interesting and the overall character fascinating. Others however, failed to empathise with Christopher and were annoyed by his seeming failure to take responsibility for his actions and the effect it was having on his parents. His disability didn’t seem to provide an acceptable caveat for this deficiency. We had a couple of newcomers to this month’s session and one particularly annoying woman with one of those high, whining, condescending accents was in constant disbelief that others had the temerity to have enjoyed the book, saying that she couldn’t understand how anyone could sympathise with an annoying little boy, as she put it.
But hey ho, nothing wrong with a bit of fire in the belly and passion for a point of view. Hope she doesn’t come back next month, though.
Our second choice was far less controversial – Bill Bryson’s Down Under. Not much to add here, as every man and his dog has probably read something of his. If I sound sneering I don’t mean to, I think the everyman quality of his writing is highly accessible. His ability to write for the general layman on quite complex topics is something few have the skill to do (I’m thinking of A Short History of Nearly Everything here). His books are very funny too, and comedy is another trait that is hard to get down in words. Sometimes his prose can tip towards the patronising but that’s a criticism that is hardly unique to him. I guess I would call Bryson a comfort to read – nothing too challenging but you will have a good time with anything he writes.