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27th September
written by Steph
Book club pick for Sept/Oct

Book club pick for Sept/Oct

This book was selected for the upcoming meeting of my real-life book club.  I first read it back in 2004 or 2005 and enjoyed it so much that when I found a cheap copy at McKay’s during one of our initial visits, I bought it so that Tony could experience it.  If not for my bookclub, I’m not sure that I would have re-read it again any time soon, but I have to say the experience was not at all unwelcome. This seems to be one of those books that pretty much everyone has read, so I’m tempted not to give a synopsis.  Then again, judging from the way my bookclub voted (we are a bit different in the way we operate compared to most other clubs, I think: rather than a single person picking a book for us to read, the person in charge of organizing the meeting for that month picks 3 potential books and sends us the information.  We then all vote for which one we want, so that no single person can be held responsible should we not like the book! 😉 ), apparently there may be a hidden faction of individuals who are not familiar with this one.  So: the basic premise is that this novel revolves around a young, autistic narrator named Christopher.  Christopher has been tasked with writing a book for school, and we, the readers, are looking at the final result.  The story is told through Christopher’s eyes, which makes for an interesting and pretty unique reading experience given Christopher’s unusual way of looking at the world.  The novel’s main catalyst is Christopher’s discovery that his neighbor’s dog has been murdered, and he decides that he will discover who committed the crime.  Through his investigations he winds up uncovering a much larger secret that has been kept hidden for far too long, one that causes him to stretch and grow in ways he never thought possible. Because this was a re-read for me, I was able to remember enough of the basic plot that there weren’t any huge surprises for me along the way.  I was able to pick up on the way Haddon foreshadows the more shell-shocking surprise well in advance, and thought he did a good job on that front.  Certain elements that would prevent that secret from being revealed far earlier on hinge upon Christopher’s relatively unsophisticated means of viewing the world (by which I mean, his general acceptance of most things at face value), so I think Haddon really chooses his narrator wisely.   The story is well-placed and plotted, and certainly makes for an engaging read that it is easy to finish in a single sitting.  Even though I knew how everything would all turn out, I was just as happy to keep reading so I could continue to rediscover the subtler elements of Christopher’s journey.  I think this shows that there is real substance to the narrative Haddon constructs, as the bells and whistles that impress on a first reading do largely stand up to a second one as well. I think the thing that I enjoyed most about this book the first time and continued to appreciate this time was how striking the narrative voice is in this novel.  For all intents and purposes, Christopher is essentially inscrutable to most of the people in his life, and yet Haddon makes his quirks and tics not only endearing but also understandable.  I think he quite compellingly conveys the world through an autistic person’s eyes for his readers, which is no small feat.  He manages to communicate how alienating and isolating life must be for autistic individuals, while also making Christopher human and relatable.  I really felt like I was reading Christopher’s writing and his true experience when I read this book, which I think is a huge testament to Haddon’s skill here.  We feel the importance of Christopher’s journey and his development, and he makes us see how remarkable Christopher really is.  Moreover, the writing is full of humor and is really quite clever, and ultimately it is a very uplifting little tale. My only qualm with the novel is that it’s one of those books that I feel is an enjoyable read but does not have a lot of hidden depths or things for a reader to struggle with.  It’s a mystery story as well as a bildungsroman, but it is rather straightforward in the end.  I didn’t feel there were many layers, so I do wonder to what extent we will be able to discuss this at our next meeting.  Apart from the discussion of the narrator (was he convincing or not?) and the somewhat unconventional style (there are drawings scattered throughout the novel), is there any more meat on its bones?  I’m inclined to feel there isn’t, and think this is a book that most of us will say we really liked and then conversation will switch to other non-bookish topics.  If any of you out there have read this and had any questions or insights you feel would make for interesting discussion, then please share them in the comments! I really enjoyed the unconventional way Haddon delivers his narrative – having read more since the first time I encountered this novel, I see parallels between Haddon and Jonathan Saffran Foer, as both tend to select precocious narrators and rely on visual stylistic elements to enhance their stories (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close played with typeface and was made to feel like a scrapbook).  I like this type of creative storytelling, and appreciate it when authors play with the medium.  I’d be interested in reading other authors who take a similar approach. On a broader scale, I enjoyed my second read through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and felt that it had much of the charm and magic that the first read through did.  But I also felt that perhaps two readings was sufficient for one lifetime.  I do think that this is a book that is worth reading, and one that most people will enjoy, but I’m not sure that I will feel the need to read it again in the future, seeing that I feel it is a relatively simple story in the end.  I am glad I had the chance to read it again, I hope those of you who haven’t read it will take the time to experience it for yourselves, but I think I will set this one free from my collection so that I can replace it with a book that will stand up to a lifetime of re-readings! Rating: 4 out of 5


  1. 09/27/2009

    While I also enjoyed this, I think one reading was enough for me, as it’s not particularly a “favourite.” I’m curious, though, do you only keep books you rate 5 out of 5? Or do you base on if you’ll reread or not? I’m asking because I also tend to purge a lot and sometimes I need to justify to myself why I let go of a book or why I keep them. There are times when I hold on to something which I liked less than something I let go of. Don’t really understand sometimes why I do what I do.

  2. 09/27/2009

    I enjoyed this one a lot too, but, like Claire, I thought one reading was plenty. I wouldn’t object to reading it again, because it’s fun enough, but I think you’re right that there aren’t really any hidden depths to it.

  3. 09/27/2009

    Sometimes a book without layers is just what we need. I have always been intrigued by this title, so I am looking forward to reading it some day.

  4. 09/27/2009

    I just received A Spot of Bother, and am looking forward to seeing how the two books compare. I agree that The Curious Incident might not lend itself to a book club discussion…in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned as a book club pick. Now I’m wondering if Bother will be the same way.

  5. 09/27/2009

    @ Claire: I don’t only keep books that I rate 5 out of 5. For me it’s a combo of how much I enjoyed the book and whether I think it will stand up to (or require!) multiple re-readings. Some books I enjoy but know I won’t want to read them again, so I don’t tend to keep those around. Other books perhaps are not what I would call a “favourite”, but I think would need multiple readings for me to truly appreciate them. In these cases, I’ll keep them around. Another factor I also consider is the ease of acquiring a book – some books I thought were fine, but I also realize that they’ll be easy to come by again in the future at second-hand shops or the like, so I’m more willing to part with those as well. So really, there’s no sure fire way for me to determine whether I’ll keep a book or not, though I will say that certainly any 5 out of 5 book will get kept (or will be purchased!).
    @ Teresa: Yes, it really was a book where you glean everything there is to be taken from it the first time round. It was enjoyable enough to revisit, but I certainly felt that while I enjoyed my time with it, I’ve spent enough time on it. I didn’t LOVE it nearly enough to want to keep it around for breezy comfort reads, as I have things like Harry Potter or Jasper Fforde (or Jeeves & Wooster!) for that.
    @ Rebecca: I agree that sometimes you just want a nice plot-driven novel that’s fun to read and will entertain you for a few hours. I guess I just know that this is one that has served its purpose for me and one that I won’t feel the need to revisit again. But I certainly hope you enjoy it, because it really is a lovely book.
    @ softdrink: Alas, I tried to read A Spot of Bother earlier this year (it was my first review posted in January 2009, I believe), and I really did not like it at all. I found it unfocused and trite and it didn’t have the charm of this book. It was really disappointing for me, and I actually didn’t bother to finish, but perhaps you’ll fare better!

  6. I enjoyed reading this too, but I am not surprised to hear that it doesn’t require re-reading. I’ll try Spot of Bother at somepoint, but I won’t be picking up CIDITNT again.

  7. Eva

    I think your second-to-last paragraph summed up how I felt about this one! I’m not sorry I read it, but I wouldn’t be interested in rereading it.

  8. 09/28/2009

    @ Jackie: As I said to softdrink, while I enjoyed this book, I REALLY did not like A Spot of Bother. When I see it, it still makes me twitchy, so I would recommend maybe not buying that one for your collection either. I felt that many of the stylistic choices Haddon makes work here do not work so well there.
    @ Eva: I guess some books are just meant for a single reading! Nothing wrong with it, but I think it’s probably not worth it to keep those ones around for the long haul.

  9. 09/28/2009

    I’m part of that hidden faction! Actually, I do know of it, but for some reason or other I’ve yet to pick it up. To be honest I never quite wanted to until more or less recently, when a close friend read and loved it. What you said about the voice and the comparison to Jonathan Safran Foer (love him!) also make me want to give it a go sometime, but I’ll know not to expect anything life-changing.

  10. I enjoyed this book when I read it the first time, but I’ve never felt the need to re-read it. Perhaps I’d have the same reaction you did the second time around. I would HIGHLY recommend your reading Marcelo in the Real World if you haven’t already – the story is very similar, but I thought Marcelo was much better than this one.

  11. 09/28/2009

    I read this a couple of years ago, and thought it was a great book. I did save it for my collection, but I tend to agree that reading it once was enough. I mostly saved it for when my kids get a little older and to lend out to my bookish friends. I agree with you that the story is engaging and the protagonist very quirky and likable, but I don’t think there is a whole lot to rediscover upon multiple rereads in this book.

  12. 09/28/2009

    @ Nymeth: I found the narrator very similar to Oskar in Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, so if you enjoyed that book then I think there is a good chance you will like this one.
    @ Heather: Thank you so much for the recommendation – I’ve never heard of Marcelo in the Real World, so I’ll be sure to check it out!
    @ zibilee: I think if we had kids or a circle of friends with whom I exchanged books, then I would be more inclined to keep it, but as it is I’d rather make room for other books.

  13. 10/01/2009

    I keep picking this book up in bookstores and then setting it back down again – I think I’ve been leery of an autistic narrator. But I like the insight you give into the selection of the narrator and how it works out quite felicitously for the explication of a mystery. If nothing else, you have inspired me to pick it up once again – (although maybe I will once again set it down)!

    You also make a very good point that books that are good are not necessarily books that are good for book clubs. What do you think works best: layers of meaning, or controversial assertions?

  14. 10/02/2009

    @ rhapsody: I can’t speak directly to your fears about the autistic narrator without knowing what exactly about it makes you leery, but I will say that even though the prose is not super complicated (as befits the narrator), it is also not awkward and weird. I think one of Haddon’s great triumphs here is making Christopher so human and relatable… But since this one doesn’t have much re-read value, perhaps you’d benefit more from borrowing it from the library?

    As for book club selections when I think back on the books that have been most successful in our group, I would think that having some kind of controversy (or element that makes the book somewhat objectionable) has been key for the most animated discussion. I don’t know that this means that the book has to had the aim to be controversial necessarily, just that people who read it responded in an ambivalent way! Whenever we pick books that we uniformly love, there’s very little to discuss I find, because everyone agrees with each other, and I guess there is only so long you can say, “I thought this book was great” or “I loved this passage!” Sometimes I find this true when writing reviews as well. Sometimes our discussions are liveliest when we all hated the book in question, but I think the ideal mix is when there were things that worked well, but things that didn’t (or say there was a particularly troubling character or something like that). I find that it is the difference of opinions/responses that really makes book clubs interesting and worthwhile. But perhaps if we had a group where the readers were more inclined to dig into layered meanings (I think there are some of us who would do this, but many who would not), maybe then we’d even be able to discuss books we loved better!

  15. 03/23/2012

    he formality, the reasoning, everything is presented in such a way that you feel better able to understand Christopher, who is mentally challenged, and his parents. The ending is apt, while not glossing over the situations Christopher went through. I feel not only as if the story is real but the people are also. Details and explanations are well handled and always in keeping with Christophers mind set. I have worked with both mentally and physically challenged people and this book reminded me just how tiring and rewarding to live and interact with someone who is challenged can be.

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