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600 Hours of Edward = 6 Hours of My Life that I won’t get back
on 22 April 2014
Edward Stanton is a 39 year old, unmarried man who lives in a house bought for him by his father, living on a credit card paid off by his father. Edward has Asperger Syndrome. 600 Hours of Edward is a story narrated by Edward, showing the ways in which his life changed over a 25 day (600 hour) period.
Whether or not the reader will “get” the book depends to a great extent on the degree to which the reader “gets” Edward. Judging by Amazon reviews, most readers have great sympathy for Edward and find the novel amazing.
I’m afraid I don’t.
My big problem was that I didn’t believe in Edward. For the most part, he displays the obsessie-compulsive behaviour of a man with Asperger Syndrome. He notes his waking times, keeps a list of the high and low temperature each day, and watches an episode of Dragnet every night at 10pm without fail. His life is ordered but empty. He displays little ability to grasp what others might think and learns emotional cues by rote from his doctor. Except, that is, for the times when Edward displays great emotional insight. The problem is that for all the repetitive narrative, Edward does not behave consistently. When the narrative requires it, Edward behaves with generosity; he is truthful to the point of self-harm except when he perceived that a white lie will spare someone’s feelings. His daily letters of complaint betray a level of empathy and understanding that is not borne out in his regular activities.
The plot is quite straightforward and has a habit of unfolding several pages later than the reader expects (i.e. you can see it coming a mile off). The narrative is pretty leaden and emotionless (verisimilitude, I hear you say…) that makes the novel a bit of a slog. Even positive commentators have questioned the need to read the synopses of each episode of Dragnet with care and attention.
It is inevitable that 600 Hours will be compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon), given that both purport to portray a central character with Asperger Syndrome. It may also be worth considering The Rosie Project (Graham Simsion) in the mix. Sadly, Edward comes up wanting. Where Rosie and Curious Incident create humour in the gap between an unreliable narrator and what the reader knows to be happening, Edward seems to be a thoroughly truthful narrator. With the exception of a single dating scene that is genuinely comic, there is really no sense of misunderstanding. Sure, there’s the odd occasion where, for example, Edward and his neighbour Donna act at cross purposes because Donna is not aware of factual information, but nothing is ever made of the difference in perceptions.
Overall 600 Hours drags. It is slow to start and slow to end, with just a little bit of implausible and frenetic action in the middle. It feels like a missed opportunity; it could have been funny or it could have been profound but it ended up being neither. 600 Hours of Edward = 6 Hours of My Life that I won’t get back.