Just to clear something up: this book didn’t strike me as a mystery, or rather that the central plot device is only a mystery to the protagonist; all the adults know quite well what’s going on. It’s a book about what it’s like to live with autism, and that’s where the mystery comes in: the difficulty that autistic and non-autistic people have understanding one another.
Christopher John Francis Boone, who knows all the countries of the world and loves the order of prime numbers, cannot understand the emotional world of the “neurotypicals” around him, much less symbolic language use: metaphors, similes, puns and figures of speech have no place in his world. Noises that are too loud, clothes that are too scratchy, people who touch him, none of these are acceptable; even his father cannot hug him but must express affection by holding his hand out, fingers spread, in the hopes that Christopher hasn’t reached his point of overstimulation. For the past two years, Christopher has been raised by his father alone; his mother disappeared suddenly when Christopher was thirteen, and his father told him at the time of her disappearance that she died of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.
There is a mystery of sorts, though it’s something of a red herring or a MacGuffin: Specifically, why would anyone stab Christopher’s neighbor’s poodle to death? As Christopher’s investigation continues, it becomes increasingly clear to the readers that the boy’s investigation is leading him away from the dog’s death into the depths of his parents’ emotional entanglements with the neighbors.
Despite his father’s warning him to stay out of it, Christopher sets out to solve what appears to be the mystery from his perspective, emulating his hero Sherlock Holmes, the ultimate logical intellect. Christopher documents his efforts in a diary or “novel” of sorts, which is ostensibly the book that readers have acquired. Christopher’s father confiscates Christopher’s notebook, and in the course of searching for it, Christopher discovers a box of letters his mother has written to him over the course of the past two years. Upon the father’s return home, Christopher’s father does admit to Christopher that his mother alive and well, having run off with another man. Christopher sets off, with his pet rat and what money he has, for his mother, though London and the public transit system prove overwhelming to him.
His mother welcomes him, though Mr. Shears (husband of the woman whose poodle was killed at the book’s beginning) proves unable to cope with Christopher’s mental issues. When Judy takes Christopher home to Swindon for his A-levels in maths, Mr. Shears dumps her, but Christopher’s father proves amenable to working out an arrangement with his ex-wife in regards Christopher’s custody. Not a happy ending, exactly, but the best that might be hoped under the circumstances.
While I finished this willingly enough, I have to confess I prefer Haddon’s subsequent book, A Spot of Bother. This is not least because I have trouble understanding (though a great deal of sympathy for) Christopher’s perspective on the world. I, like a good many people he encounters, am left with the strong urge to shake sense into him, but also the realization that such actions would not help but hinder our potential relationship…which is, I suppose, Haddon’s point.
While Haddon has made it clear that not only is he not an expert on Asperger’s but he did not intend Christopher to represent someone with autism or Aspergers….that’s sure how it comes across to me, though I’ll be the first to admit that I am not myself an expert. In that light, I’d suggest that people who’re either Aspies or neurologists/psychologists and who are fussy about accuracy in details (and I’d bet that a lot of people in both categories are thus) should probably stay away from the book. For those of us who are none of those, it was an interesting read, though I’d want to hear what people with neurological differences had to say about the book before I went so far as to say it was “good”.