The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

To Christopher John Francis Boone, a mathematically gifted boy of fifteen with Asperger’s syndrome, his mind is sometimes like a machine, like a bread-slicing machine that isn’t working fast enough but the bread keeps coming and there is a blockage. Christopher knows all the countries in the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He loves animals but is foreign to human affections. He doesn’t like being shouted at or touched. And he hates the color yellow and brown.

One night he discovered that Wellington, the dog next door, was dead with a garden fork sticking out of its body. Since then he decided to investigate on “the murder”, even though to do that he had to cope with the things that were out of his comfort zone. For example, being a “detective”, he had to interact with strangers, and go to new places, these are things that he wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. And even though his father didn’t approve, he kept doing his detective work and wrote everything he’d found in a book, the very book I was reading, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

This book is so unique because it enables readers to see the world through the eyes of a boy who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. According to Wikipedia, Asperger’s syndrome is is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. People with Asperger’s syndrome often display intense interests; in Christopher’s case he was interested in mathematics and science. His profound interest in math was reflected upon his choice to use only prime numbers for the chapters in his book. Therefore, there isn’t Chapter 1 in this book, but Chapter 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, and so on. Here’s what Christopher said about prime numbers:

Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. – p. 12

What an amazing work the author, Mark Haddon, did in this book. While diving into the head of a mathematically genius boy with Asperger’s syndrome, the author provided readers with details as comprehensive as possible. For example, when Christopher was asked by the policeman to empty his pockets, he described every little thing he had in his pockets. Christopher drew the map of a zoo he and his father went to from memory. And the author described what Christopher do to make himself feel calm, which is do math equations and doubling 2’s in his head (he could do that until 245). And he could quickly give answer to 251 times 864 which is 216,864, because “it was a really easy sum because you just multiply 864 x 1,000, which is 864,000. Then you divide it by 4, which is 216,000, and that’s 250 x 864. Then you just add another 864 onto it to get 251 x 864. And that’s 216,864.”

Also, his relationship with his father is an important point in the book. We can learn that special kids like Christopher tends to need time to regain trust to his closed ones (in this case his father) if that person has done something wrong towards him. We can learn that being a parent of a child who has special needs requires not only love but never-ceasing stock of patience. One final note to wrap this review: people with Asperger’s syndrome are special, but they’re still human beings. To love them and interact with them you have to know what’s going on inside their heads. And Mark Haddon had done amazing job in telling us what’s going on inside their heads.

Book details:
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
226 pages Paperback, published 2003 by Vintage Books, a division of Random House
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Surabaya, Indonesia, June 18th, 2012

Dear friend,

I’ve just read a wonderful book called “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” a few weeks ago, and I thought that I’d write a personal letter to you recommending it.

What first comes to your mind when you hear “World War II”? War must mean blood, chaos, ruthlessness, hope running out; don’t you think? Well, this book was set at the end of the World War II. The main character was Juliet Ashton, a writer for the English weekly Spectator under the pseudonym Izzy Bickerstaff. With her humorous writings Juliet brought the minds of people away from the war for a while. Juliet might have been famous for her Izzy Bickerstaff columns, but she had much deeper passion when it comes to literature. She also wrote a biography of Anne Brontë, which was sold poorly. When she was looking for a subject for her next book, she was accidentally corresponding with Dawsey Adams from the Guernsey Island, who told her about the book society he’s been involved in, how was the society accidentally formed during the German occupation, and how books changed the bitter lives of its members during wartime. Driven by curiosity, Juliet asked Dawsey if she could correspond to other members of the society, and BAM! Her wish was granted. She wrote and received long letters from almost all of the members, only to realize that she fell in love with them and she longed to read more from them. I won’t spoil much plot of the book, but you will find surprises as you turn the pages, surprises that would make you smile long after you finished it. I particularly liked the character Juliet, a woman who would dump a guy because he didn’t share her love for books (whoops!). Guernsey was written by Mary Ann Shaffer and continued by her niece, Annie Barrows.

Have you ever hear about Guernsey Island before? Yes, Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables during his period of exile in Guernsey. It is a British Crown dependency in the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy. I attached the map and some photos of the beautiful little island if you’re curious.

Back to the book, it was written in epistolary method (told in series of letters). It was warm and sweet, witty and romantic, you’ll fall in love with the characters (well, not all, thankfully), and it tells a lot about the love for literature. Anybody who loves books and literature should read this book. But mind you, men might not enjoy this book. It was like chick lit set in the 1940s era, written especially for book lovers. By page 11 I found one of my favorite lines of the book:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

And in page 16:

“I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers—booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one—the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it—along with first dibs on the new books.”

And this one line in page 56 reminds me so much of the Indonesian Book Bloggers (BBI) community I’m involved in:

“We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.”

Ain’t that sweet? 😀

So, my dear friend, if you are curious much after reading my letter, I suggest you grab a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, as soon as possible. And do you know, the book is filming at the time being with Kate Winslet as Juliet Ashton! When you have read the book, if you loved it, maybe we can watch the movie together. See you when it comes!

Truly yours,
Melisa

Book details:
“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
305 pages Paperback, published May 2009 by Random House
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥