The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

“Metaphors are lies.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 268 pages.
Read from November 6, 2017 to November 8, 2017.

This is one of those books that has been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time. It isn’t that I wasn’t excited to read it, it was just that I missed the hype on this book right after it was published so I moved on to other books instead. It had been on my to-read shelf so long that I feel as if I had already read it!

Did you know?

The title of this book quotes the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story “Silver Blaze.”

Christopher is a fifteen-year-old boy who understands the world through math as it is the only thing that makes sense to him. Emotions and expressions are a mystery to him so it is hard for him to meet new people and make sense of the world. Christopher is brilliant in mathematics and logic but his behavioural issues mean that he spends his time in a special school. Christopher lives with his father, Ed, as he has been told his mother passed away two years ago. Christopher’s adventures begin when he finds his neighbour’s dog stabbed with a pitchfork. Determined to figure out who committed the act Christoper begins writing everything down in an effort to find the murderer. As Christopher’s murder mystery unfolds, he will learn some fragile and mysterious things about the people around him which take him on an adventure he never would have anticipated.

Did you know?

This book was first published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children in 2003.

I was shocked to read some of the hateful reviews of this book as many people could not tolerate the style of writing the author used. The book is written in Christopher’s voice and personality, so the verbiage is blunt as Christopher tries to explain situations as he sees them. This included diagrams and random banters about math which result in unintended philosophical rants on life. This unique perspective offered by Christopher is the whole point of the novel. It is meant to allow the reader to purposely see and appreciate the point of view of someone else.  Haddon even says so himself,

“Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger’s. It’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. Indeed he never uses the words ‘Asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (I slightly regret that fact that the word ‘Asperger’s’ was used on the cover). If anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s as much a novel about us as it is about Christopher.”- Mark Haddon

I personally, really appreciated the style and its ability to reach out to both a youth and adult audience. Even if I could not understand or appreciate some of the choices that Christopher and his family made I can see the logic in them. Christopher’s parents were the most dynamic characters in the book and Haddon does a great job of depicting them with depth even with Christopher’s limited emotional narrative. Despite the darkness and tone of some parts of this book, the happy ending is extremely satisfying.

Did you know?

The book uses prime numbers to number the chapters.

The most intriguing bit of this book is the exploration of human emotion. It makes you analyze the importance it plays in our personal and social lives and how it drives or destroys it. In a way, it would be nice if things were cut and dry the way that Christopher sees things but at the same time, it would be overwhelming and distressing because nothing else in life works that way.

Did you know?

The story was adapted onto the stage in 2012 and the rights for a movie were purchased in 2011 but it has not yet been produced.

I would say that this book is worthy of the hype it has received. It is unique and different and received accolades for its insight, but as with anything different, there are always haters. If you are looking to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and immerse yourself in a whole new world than this little murder-mystery is right for you.


Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time

http://www.markhaddon.com/aspergers-and-autism

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first-generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being a genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel to me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning, however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however, there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Is this strange book? Yes, but it’s also a great book in which you can’t deny its beauty and potency.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 160 pages.
Read from May 20 to 24, 2016.

Is this strange book?  Yes, but it’s also a great book in which you can’t deny its beauty and potency. This book came up in my newsfeed as the latest Booker prize winner and after reading the description, I knew I had to read it.  The book was originally written in Korean and translated to English.

Set in modern-day South Korea, Yeong-hye is an obedient and unremarkable wife. The perfect kind, in the opinion of her husband, who is narrating the first portion of this story. That is until Yeong-hye is shaken by a dream that convinces her that she must become a vegetarian. While to many westerners, this is an unremarkable lifestyle choice, but in Korea it is not very well understood nor is it a popular in a country where following societal norms is very important. By becoming a vegetarian, Yeong-hye is being quite rebellious and disagreeable. Her husband and family believe this to be a phase but Yeong-hye just becomes more adamant about her choices and more passive aggressive in her actions resulting in some violent and cruel outcomes.

After a horrible intervention with her family Yeong-hye attempts suicide and is hospitalized which results in her selfish husband filing for divorce.  Yeong-hye’s has also, unknowingly, become the object of muse, fascination and sexual desire to her brother-in-law, who is an artist that does little to support his very busy entrepreneurial wife and their young child. His pursuit to create his sexual and prolific masterpiece will have dire consequences for Yeong-hye and for her sister.

“Only Yeong-hye, docile and naive, had been unable to deflect their father’s temper or put up any form of resistance. Instead, she had merely absorbed all her suffering inside her, deep into the marrow of her bones.”

I believe this book to be a reflection of women and their place in society in Korea as well as stigmas in regards to mental health. This book is a reflection of the consequences of being passive and obedient and the result of holding in these negative feelings and emotions and what that can do to someone’s well-being.

The first two portions of the book are narrated by men, the last is by Yeong-hye’s sister. In the first two portions of the book you get an idea of the expectations of women through the eyes of Yeong-hye’s husband who just wants her to be complacent and obedient. He has no shame in taking advantage of Yeong-hye when he believes that she is being disobedient. He is also envious of his brother-in-law who literally just gets to play around with his art all day and not work, while his wife works long hours and then is expected to cook and be the main care provider for her son.

“She’s a good woman, he thought. The kind of woman whose goodness is oppressive.”

The second portion that is narrated by Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He has a envisioned a piece of art that centers around Yeong-hye but it verges on pornography. Yeong-hye is fascinating to him and he desires her. He is selfish and does little to pause and think of the consequences his actions might have outside of creating this perfect piece of art. He does little to think that he may be taking advantage of Yeong-hye since she is unwell or what the consequences would be for Yeong-hye and his wife.

“Perhaps the only things he truly loved were his images—those he’d filmed, or then again, perhaps only those he had yet to film.”

Finally, in the last portion of the book, Yeong-hye’s sister speaks. She is the only one who has attempted to help Yeong-hye and she is exhausted. She has been responsible for running a business, raising a son practically on her own, and is now trying to take care of Yeong-hye.  Yeong-hye’s sister is almost jealous of the fact that Yeong-hye is not bothered by her actions and not fitting in with a societal norms, despite her deteriorating mind and body, as it is a freedom that she has never known. The chapter is full of reflection from Yeong-hye’s sister and it evokes so much sadness and sympathy for both of the women’s circumstances.

“She was no longer able to cope with all that her sister reminded her of. She’d been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificent irresponsibility that had enabled Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner. And before Yeong-hye had broken those bars, she’d never even known they were there.”

The lack of Yeong-hye’s voice in her own story is a reflection on women struggling to have a voice in their own lives within a restrictive society of social norms. Through the choice to become a vegetarian, Yeong-hye starts to shed everything that society expects of her, however, with no way to express and deal with the emotions and turmoil inside of her, she becomes mad, or free, in Yeong-hye’s own perception.

Disturbing, beautiful and poignant. This book is worthy of the award it received. The writing is elegant, delicate and poetic even as it deals with such moving material. Had I the option to read this book in one sitting I would have. I was moved by the characters and turmoil of Yeong-hye’s spiral to madness/freedom. Her story will be one that will stick with me forever.