A novel that focuses on Asperger's Syndrome faces obvious comparison with "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon. In "The Way Things Look to Me", Roopa Farooki focuses on 3 young members of an Irish/Indian family who were orphaned by their mother's unexpected death. All were affected by this event and all have developed strategies to cope with its aftermath. 23-year old Asif is an accountant who, since he dropped out of university, acts as a carer for his youngest sister, Yasmin, whilst Lila, Kalila, who has not resolved her jealousy about her sister, whom she blames for taking her mother away from her, has let fate dictate her future with the result that she has had a string of failed relationships and no steady employment. She suffers from a severe skin disorder and, secretly, self-harms. Yasmin has learned to cope by planning and keeping to a strict routine, by avoiding situations in which her inability to express emotion embarrasses others, and by humming to break up her constant thinking that tires her out.
The story is told by all three siblings in turn with both contemporary stories and flashbacks to past histories being presented so that we are able to follow them through school, on the day when their mother died unexpectedly and as they try to remain a family before and Lila moves away to pursue her own interests. The author presents Yasmin's perspective through a very repetitive and unemotional voice that captures the isolation and frustration of an individual with Asperger's Syndrome.
As they were growing up, Asif and Lila dealt very differently with their sister's condition, and the constraints this placed on their everyday lives. Whereas Asif was helpful and caring, but never felt rewarded for his good behavior, Lila had tantrums, used bad language and misbehaved which led to her being punished but then being comforted by her mother.
A TV crew is making a programme about Yasmin; the run-up to the filming, the filming and the broadcasting of the programme affect all three siblings in different ways, leading to Lila's meeting with a visually-impaired researcher, Henry, to Yasmin's decision to decide what she wants to do and to allow Asif to consider, for the first time, the life that he would like to have if freed from his sister. Readers are invited to consider how they would react to having a sibling with a disability like Yasmin's and whether they would be more like to follow Asif's or Lila's response patterns - to put one's own life, and self-interest on hold or to forget about her for long periods in order to pursue one's own interests, or to adopt a combination of the two.
Asif suddenly finds out that his dreams may actually come true, and Yasmin, as expected, passes her A-levels, Lila openly expresses her frustration and jealousy about her sister to Henry whose own behavior towards her makes her feel ashamed.
Lila's former unpleasant character and behavior, and its consequent change after meeting Henry seemed too good to be true, whilst the background characters were a little too contrived - the sportsman, the gay person, the African-American, the visually-impaired, that I was half expecting a Latino character to pop up at some stage. After having created a very thought-provoking story, the author then ties up all the ends rather too conveniently.
Each of the siblings has strengths and weaknesses, and each had realised by the end of the novel that they had to adapt their behaviour if their individual and corporate difficulties were not to reoccur. Based upon what had happened before, I am not convinced that two of the three would be able to make such changes, but one in three is at least one person living a life that is more satisfying for them and their immediate circle of family and friends.
Haddon's novel was unique in that, for the very first time, it positioned a character with Asperger's Syndrome at its centre and led to a broad discussion of the condition. Farook's novel gives more attention to the immediate environment of a person with Asperger's and to the physical and mental stresses that carers and their families experience. Both books are without sentimentality and showed, with humour and compassion, an exterior world which can be frightening to Asperger's sufferers, their families and to the rest of us.