Here's the thing: I just deleted a bunch of hand-wringing garbage about writing a three-star review, but now I'll probably recreate it, and that may be okay. I have a really hard time with books-I-like-but-not-more-than-that, because I can't just wallow in diatribe or soar with praise. I liked this book. It was good. But on some level I failed to connect with it, and we can go around pointing guns at me, or the author, or publishing in general, or whatever, but the simple fact is there was something missing in my response, and it doesn't really matter where it came from, in the end, it just was.
I read this last weekend, on the porch the way I do. I like reading on the porch, even when it's hot and I should be inside in the AC, because the slight discomfort of the wind and the sun reminds me that I continue to have a body, and when I read I retreat too far into my own mind. This is probably a good thing with a book of this nature, because Haddon does just an incredible job of housing you in the perspective of an autistic boy. Mind you, the word autistic is never used, but this is the way of the book: the narrator tells you things, in his specific way, but you, with your ability to read faces and expressions, can read a completely different story in his story. This is heart-breaking, and awful.
While I'm really impressed by the strength of the voice in this book, and the discomfort I felt at Christopher's understandings and lack of understandings, I just didn't groove on this as hard as I wish I could have. Maybe it's the nature of the narrator, whose emotional understandings are so different from mine. Maybe it's reading as a parent, and dying dying
from the ways his folks hurt and are hurt by Christopher, all unintentionally, all understandably. (Just a random aside on this: I know it's uncool, in certain circles, to talk about how one reads as a parent - and this is fair, a lot of the time, because the loudly parental stance often demands the child-proofing of fiction in really stupid and nasty ways - stop hiding behind your kids. But. But I can't just shrug it off. I found it hard to relate with Christopher, and painfully easy to with his parents, and there are a couple facts of the mystery that struck me as so horribly brutal as to be unlikely, but this may just be me.)
This may be my other problem, and I feel apologetic about this too: I just don't like literary fiction. Calm down; no screaming; it's just a personal taste, and I'm not interested in foisting my likes and dislikes on others. But. But, again, there were some really pointed references to mysteries, as a genre – specifically a really wonderful exegesis of The Hound of the Baskervilles
. I'm falling apart a little here, and flailing, because while I liked how the protagonist read this book, I didn't really like how the author wrote Christopher to read this book. I noticed how the author was writing Christopher reading Baskervilles
, and then I was booted out of the narrative, and I noticed how I was sitting on the porch in the heat and my glass was empty. You know? Maybe I'm not making any sense. This review is hard.
Anyway, you might like this book if you have a thing for well-done narrative voice, but you might not if you have an allergy to literary trickiness. I can't recommend either way. It's short, so it won't take long for you to determine for yourself.