1. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Ashley Harrison, Feb 21, 2016.

    Does any else think the book 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' by Mark Haddon, is a patronising portrayal of Asperger's Syndrome? I thought, FFS another novel that uses a form of Autism as its central theme. Okay don't judge this character, it won't be a stereotypical representation of HFA. Unfortunately, it turns out to be so. Then I thought, do some research, the author must obviously have first hand experience of this condition, to write this character, wouldn't he? No, wrongo again for me, it isn't so. The characterisation of the main protagonist, named Christopher, seems to be ripped straight from a DSM book of psychological disorders. Let's unashamedly, give the lead character, all the personality traits attributed to Asperger's Syndrome. It really gets my goat, that another literary work of fiction, has to portray the condition in such a simplistic and narrow view of HFA. Does anyone have a different interpretation of this book? Or does anyone share the same opinion, that this novel is slightly condescending towards the subject of Asperger's Syndrome?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Coincidentally, I almost bought that book at the store this morning. I didn't, and have not read it. The reviews were good, but if the author botched the main character I doubt I'll read it.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a bit confused - you don't like it because the character is too accurate, according to the DSMV?

    I haven't read it for years, so I can't really discuss details. But in general, people usually criticize books for getting things wrong, rather than getting them too right...
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I was seeing it more as the character being reduced to a set of symptoms or behaviors from a manual rather than being a well-rounded, real person. But again I haven't read the book.
     
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  5. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    You may have a different opinion, if you do that's good too. When you've had direct experience of HFA, uninformed authors writing about it annoys me a tiny bit. I guess Mark Haddon may say "he is using creative license", which he's perfectly entitled to do.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just curious, because I also haven't read the book, but does the author at any time actually tell the reader that the character has Asperger's Syndrome? Or is it just the way the character behaves that leads reviewers and readers to label him that way?
     
  7. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    I'll try and be more precise. I don't like the blatant use of cliches, the book is focused around. What is new and different about this character, apart from just a pure stereotype of a HFA person? Please tell me what you see, it might change my view.
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just picked this up from Wikipedia, which seems to indicate a certain degree of mixed messaging in the promotion of this book. You might well be right, @Ashley Harrison - or at least you're not alone. Otherwise, why the disclaimer in the blog? Somebody else must have complained?

    "The novel is narrated in the first-person perspective by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties" living in Swindon, Wiltshire. Although Christopher's condition is not stated, the book's blurb refers to Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism, or savant syndrome. In July 2009, Haddon wrote on his blog that "Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's....if anything it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. The book is not specifically about any specific disorder," and that he, Haddon, is not an expert on autism spectrum disorder or Asperger syndrome.[5]"
     
  9. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    The author stops just short of labelling, Christopher as Autistic to probably duck criticism of being so brazen in his portrayal of the centre character. He can then step back and say, you read the character as having Autism, I didn't tell you he did. I just wrote the character in that vein.
     
  10. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    Thank you Jannert. I'm not going mad, or if I am going mad, at least other people can see my point of view as well.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I said, it's been too long since I read the book for me to remember specifics.

    I think, though, that I'm still confused - does there need to be something new and different about the character, just because he's not neurotypical? If the stereotypes are based on the DSMV, they're stereotypes with at least some truth behind them...

    Can you give an example of something you found egregious?
     
  12. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    If you haven't read the book in a long time, then maybe you won't remember the points that I'd raise either, but here is an objective review from an impartial observer, whose opinion you may believe above mine.

    Elizabeth Bartmess says;

    "My specific point is that this book portrays its autistic protagonist in ways that will give readers negative, incorrect, and in some cases abusive ideas about autistic people. You should not recommend this book to autistic people or their families or friends, or to anyone else, especially not as a good representation of autism".

    Her full article can be found here: www.disabilityinkidlit.com/2015/04/04/review-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-by-mark-haddon/
     
  13. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So that makes more sense to me - she's saying she doesn't like it because it's an incorrect portrayal of autism. I was reading your first post as you saying it was a too correct version - with the reference to the DSMV. Or do you not agree with the DSMV on this?

    For clarity - I'm not disagreeing with your opinion - I'm just trying to understand it.
     
  14. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    I've got no idea what your experience with Autism is, so I'm not talking down to you, but Autism if you don't know, has a broad spectrum. Common theory among mental health professionals is that every person is on the Autistic spectrum, it just depends on the severity and how much it impacts on your life. I feel as though, Mark Haddon has painted Christopher with a very wide brush. Having to put out a statement, distancing himself from implying his main character has been written as Autistic. Also confirming he isn't an expert in the field, almost concludes, that is what he set out to do in the first place.
     
  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Again, not really talking about autism, just trying to figure out the logic of your post - if the spectrum is so broad that every person is on it (is that what you meant? that seems strange to me), then I'm still not understanding what this character could possibly do that would be inaccurate. Do you have something specific that didn't feel right to you?
     
  16. Ashley Harrison
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    QUOTE="BayView, post: 1416454, member: 66590"]Again, not really talking about autism, just trying to figure out the logic of your post - if the spectrum is so broad that every person is on it (is that what you meant? that seems strange to me), then I'm still not understanding what this character could possibly do that would be inaccurate. Do you have something specific that didn't feel right to you?[/QUOTE]

    In the context of Autistic literature which this is classed, I think it is damaging to the representation of ASD and HFA. You would not believe, how ignorant people are and where they get their education from. You might think, intelligent people don't get their information from fiction. I've found, quite shockingly they do. I know you're not from the UK, so maybe there's another difference between our cultures. The media here doesn't help either, with the 'horror stories' involving people with Autism. Seizing on any news items and putting 'Autism' to the forefront of the story, even if it has no relevance.

    A silly, uninformed person that has no first hand or inside knowledge of Autism, picks this book up and it reinforces the negative stereotypes regarding behaviour and thought patterns. They then think 'I know it all', because I read a book with an Autistic protagonist and they are all exactly like that. Highly unlikely you may think, but people like a nice, neat box to put people in to. They don't want to know the variables, just the concise and succinct cliff notes on psychological conditions. This book doesn't offer an alternative perspective. You don't have to agree with me, it is only my opinion.
     
  17. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    In the context of Autistic literature which this is classed, I think it is damaging to the representation of ASD and HFA. You would not believe, how ignorant people are and where they get their education from. You might think, intelligent people don't get their information from fiction. I've found, quite shockingly they do. I know you're not from the UK, so maybe there's another difference between our cultures. The media here doesn't help either, with the 'horror stories' involving people with Autism. Seizing on any news items and putting 'Autism' to the forefront of the story, even if it has no relevance.

    A silly, uninformed person that has no first hand or inside knowledge of Autism, picks this book up and it reinforces the negative stereotypes regarding behaviour and thought patterns. They then think 'I know it all', because I read a book with an Autistic protagonist and they are all exactly like that. Highly unlikely you may think, but people like a nice, neat box to put people in to. They don't want to know the variables, just the concise and succinct cliff notes on psychological conditions. This book doesn't offer an alternative perspective. You don't have to agree with me, it is only my opinion.
     
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So what would have made the book better for you? This character is a realistic portrayal of one person with autism, but you don't like it because you think people will think all autistic people are like that? Is that what you're saying?

    So, maybe the book would have been better if there were more autistic people in it?

    I mean, there's a sort of trap in the "some people get their information from fiction" issue, in that... I agree, fiction isn't a good source of real information. But we do want all kinds of people represented in our fiction, probably? So - what's an author to do? If we include a character from a certain group, people may look to that character as somehow definitive of the group, which isn't appropriate. But if we don't include characters from that group, we're being exclusionary, aren't we?

    Or maybe it's more the reader reaction you're objecting to, rather than the book itself?

    I'm not sure. I know how to respond to members of groups being misrepresented, but I'm not sure how to respond to a member of a group being represented...
     
  19. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    How about if a HFA person wrote this story, rather than someone's interpretation of what they think a HFA person should be like to suit their story. That would help, that would help a great deal.

    How you can write without any sense of contradiction, that another person outside of the loop, is doing the representation of a High Functioning Autistic person on their behalf? I'm flummoxed if that's the case.

    I don't think there is anything else I can write to explain and demonstrate my position to you further. I think you come from one school of thought and I come from another school of thought and there is no way to coalesce the two together. I'm fine, having a polar opposite point of view to other people. It doesn't bother me, if we don't agree with one another on this or many subjects.
     
  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't bother me to not agree, but it bothers me to not understand! I'm still not quite sure what the author got wrong. And if I'm understanding your "everyone is on the spectrum" idea (which I've honestly never come across before, so maybe I'm misunderstanding it) then... a HFA person did write this book. No?

    But I agree, this conversation isn't going anywhere - we just don't seem to be understanding each other. Oh well!
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Ashley Harrison - Have you got any ideas as to what would have made this book better? Or ...what the author did wrong?

    I'm wondering (again, not having read it) if the author chose a first-person narrator just to illuminate a condition he doesn't actually understand. He claims he didn't, but hmmmm....

    There is a lot of discussion on the forum regarding portraying people who have some kind of mental 'disorder,' especially from a first person POV. These kinds of conditions can produce very interesting characters, but as soon as you label them you risk making the reader's job too easy.

    I think the temptation for a writer is to find an authority on mental conditions, get a list of markers for whatever condition you want to work with, then create a character who ticks all these markers.

    As soon as characters get labeled with a particular condition, I feel it's too easy to dismiss them as characters. Oh, he's a psychopath, so he's scary. Oh, he's just having a bipolar episode. Oh, she's got Asperger's and can't relate to emotions. And of course then people from outside can argue about whether or not the character is 'realistic' based on ticking markers.

    I discovered after writing my novel that one of my secondary characters exhibits many traits that are markers for psychopaths. However, I didn't know anything about this condition when I wrote the story, and consequently did not tick all the 'he's a psychopath' boxes. In fact, one of the psychopath boxes is very much un-ticked. Of course he's never labeled a psychopath in the story. I was trying to create a character who is charismatic, but difficult, manipulative but attractive, ruthless, but ultimately vulnerable. I'll let other people fret over how to label him.

    I think it's more interesting for a writer to work with unique characters who interact with their environments in all sorts of ways, but it's probably best to avoid putting any kind of psychological labels on them. I suppose you can't avoid it if the character is actually being treated for a condition, but even then you can avoid ticking all the boxes.

    This approach results in characters who do things the reader doesn't expect—which is intriguing—but it also avoids creating a cookie-cutter feel to a character's mental state. I expect it's that cookie-cutter approach that has bothered you about this (probably well-intentioned) book, @Ashley Harrison .
     
  22. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    Steerpike, not having even read the book, put it better than I could.
    Using 'Judge Judy's' vernacular, I don't know the operation of Mark Haddon's mind, to know what his intentions were. The finished product that was published in the end, is a cardboard cut out of a person's ill-informed preconceptions towards HFA. This book I can tell you, gets used in educating people about Autism, not the only tool used, but one of them.

    From my frame of reference, for what it's worth, this book is from a lazily conceived perception of Autism and told through a patronising archetypal character. This adds to the already negative stigma surrounding people with HFA.
     
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  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't know it's being used to educate people about Autism—when the author claims that wasn't his intention or field of expertise. Sheesh. No wonder you're annoyed.
     
  24. Ashley Harrison
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    Ashley Harrison Active Member

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    No, trust me. My Mum used to work in a unit, caring for people with HFA and ASD. This book was part of the learning materials in training. It happens.
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    What does your Mum think of this 'training manual'?
     

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