“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” will forever be one of my absolute favourite books for a medley of reasons, two outstanding. The first is that the story itself is wonderfully witty, original and clever (all fairly good reasons to enjoy a novel, wouldn’t you agree)? The second – and most importantly and encouragingly – is that Mark manages to depict a difficult mental illness, Asperger’s, in a warm, empathetic and truthful way. (Quick note before I get into that – on my blog I am going to, more often than not, refer to people by their first name, simply because if I were ever to be referred to by my second name I think it would make me feel a bit weird and pretentious and we should probably all get off our pedestals and refer to each other as regular Joes. We are living in the Modern Age, and Shakespeare, your name is William).
I think there seems to be a bit of a “thing” in modern-day culture to alienate or glamorize mental illness, to the point where it was a “style” when I was at school (don’t know if it still exists though – are people still “emo” these days?! I am so out of touch with the youth). I find that there are rarely portrayals of mental illness in which the portrayer tries to evoke an empathetic response from their audience: to inform, rather than to set apart and scrutinize. This has encouraged, I’ve observed, the feeding of two Hydraeian heads – one, a head of sympathy and support. This of course is preferable as support is direly needed to those who are victims of mental suffering. The second head, however, appears to be fed by a desire to follow what is seen as “fashionable” – the illness itself.
Okay, having a mental illness is not “cool” or to be desired. It is, for want of a better phrase, a total pain in the arse and can be quite frightening. I suffer specifically from anxiety myself, and believe that the thoughts that run through my head sometimes would be deemed as totally ridiculous by the rest of the world (in fact, I have been told as much from time to time but that is fine – I like to hear that I am totally ridiculous, it proves that the frightening thing is in fact not at all frightening and can be squashed under my foot, like a tiny bug). Suffering from anxiety means that sometimes whole days can be determined by a neurotic voice in your head telling you not to do certain things, not to wear certain items of clothing in case something bad happens (I’ve also suffered from OCD and the remnants of that sometimes resurface but are very easy to squash now) and ALWAYS TO BE AFRAID for if you let your guard down and are suddenly not afraid, the frightening thing may happen and your whole world and your plushies and your friends and the contents of your fridge will go up in smoke and only you will remain, a helpless heap, in the fetal position on the floor.
If you have never read “The Curious Incident” – particularly if you suffer from an anxious disorder (for reasons I will expand on shortly), or if you are interested in seeing a truthful account of a new perspective – I highly recommend that you do. The premise of the action is that Christopher, a young boy living with his father, finds a dog killed in his garden with a rake through his side. He decides to embark on a personal quest to find out who the murderer is, and as he does you get to see the mechanisms of his day-to-day life whirring as he goes about his routine habits as well as adopts a new, adventurous schedule, informing us as to what living with Asperger’s can be like as well as entertaining us with his trials-and-errors as the mystery unravels.
“The Curious Incident…” speaks to me on a whole new comforting, inspiring level because Christopher is so above all of these feelings of fear that I harbour. Christopher simply gets up, is curious, arranges his food into certain shapes to make it fit to eat and cracks on with his business. It is never actually explicitly stated in the text that Christopher has Asperger’s, either (despite the fact that he clearly does), deriving the illness of a label that makes Christopher, really, just a normal boy. Not a special case. An alienated figure. Christopher cares not one jot about his differences. Christopher cares not one jot about his unique perspective. Christopher cares about maths, and that’s about it.
These are the best parts of the book for me, in which you simply learn about Christopher and the way that he sees the world. “Seeing the world with a fresh pair of eyes” should probably become a book genre in its own right (though perhaps not if you are seeing the world through the eyes of a murderer or people of that ilk, not because it wouldn’t be interesting but because it would likely be incredibly disturbing and it’s probably not worth the sacrifice of your sanity. You are meant to enjoy books). But “seeing the world through a fresh pair of eyes”, like seeing the world through the eyes of a teenager with Asperger’s, or a person with OCD, or through the eyes of people with Tetrachomy (in which you can see thousands more colours than the average person – torn as to whether this would be an incredible or bloody frustrating) – is a fascinating enterprise and opens up your mind so much more to what other people experience and to what the world can be like from a different view.
It can, on occasion, be quite difficult to see the “silver lining” (which is a big pursuit of mine always to find – I am like a lady with an industrial magnifying glass pointed to the sky, waiting for silver to pass over my radar). Something which really helps me to adjust my perspective, when it’s going a little towards the gloomier, is to find an empathetic text, a sympathetic phrase (like a Japanese proverb, they are golden) or a pair of new eyes (not literally, God that would be terrifying. Though if I were to steal a pair of eyes they would definitely be googly eyes because you could never take anything that seriously again after that). “The Curious Incident” is one of these empathetic texts. Despite the fact that Christopher suffers from a different mental illness to my own, his thoughts and feelings as a human with a different perspective speaks to me. It reminds me that my fears needn’t be so feared, or even feared at all, that my fears are superficial. It reminds us that there are others in the world with incredibly empathetic perspectives who know how to touch the hearts of the anxious or alone. It reminds us that we can be inspiring in our routines, that there are so many others in the world who have their own unique perspectives, all of which have their own issues. Do not feel that you are prey to your single perspective. Mark Haddon understands, especially comforting to a degree as Mark (to my knowledge) doesn’t have a mental illness himself, which implies that even those who don’t suffer from the kink in your perspective can and do have the ability to understand it. And that really is a lovely thing.
Also I would just like to throw in as a final point that Darwin suffered from a panic disorder and he became a bloody pioneer. He cared not one jot, either.