This is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. He is fifteen and has Asperger’s, a form of Autism. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth and owns a pet rat called Toby. He hates the colours yellow and brown and hates being touched. He knows it’s going to be a good day if he passes red cars on his way to school on the bus. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey, which will turn his whole world upside down.
Haddon has created a wonderfully brilliant character. His depiction of Christopher’s world is deeply moving, very funny and utterly convincing. He shows a unique insight into the autistic mind of the unlikely teenage detective who stumbles on everyday normalities as obstacles which further leads him to unearthing secrets that shock and startle him into running away.
What drives Haddon’s tale, however, is his empathy for his protagonist: it might have been easy to make Christopher an amusing suburban hybrid of Forest Gump and Adrian Mole, but the author digs deeper, mining a deeper emotional truth with a rigorous sense of purpose, one expressly devoid of cheap homily. He also knows a damn good page-turner: the emotional beats here are resonant and well deserved, the key plot revelations affecting, and the payoff deeply satisfying.
Although a work of fiction, it is both an educational and vividly honest adaptation of the trails and hurdles that people like Christopher undergo on a daily basis and that most of us are unaware of. A lesson can surely be learned from reading this boy’s curiously different story.
Incidentally, if you are to read only one book in the next 12 months, let it be this one. It more than deserves the recent accolade of 'Top Dog' in both the Guardian and Whitbread Awards for best book. This gem is a must and is star quality in new fiction writing regardless of age and background.