A Curious Novel

My latest read

My latest read

I finished reading The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon last night and I really want to capture my thoughts on this interesting novel. I began reading it with no expectations. I’d heard of it, that’s all, when I saw it in the library. I had no notion of what it was about, or the author, or anything (including the fact that the title comes from a Sherlock Holmes quotation.) I merely selected it as part of my aim, this year, to read more and select a wider range of books.

I’m glad I did. It is a strange novel, about a fifteen-year-old boy with Aspergers Syndrome. I feel privileged to have read it. Yes, that’s my overwhelming impression. It wasn’t a rip-roaring read, a heart-warming romance, or an unputdownable thriller, but still it dragged me through to the end with little effort (which is a big ask of a book these days because I’m very quick to give up on something that doesn’t keep me awake!)

It is funny, quirky and endearing, but mostly it’s a clever book. Written in the first person, from inside the mind of an autistic teenager, it presents the world in a new way. It also gave me a new respect and understanding for autistic children and their parents. But not in a way that demanded sympathy or forced ideas on me.

Instead, through an evolving set of anecdotes and an unravelling mystery story, it revealed immense detail about the character, his family, his life and his interpretation of the world. Some of the apparently peripheral discussions, for example about God, or time, or the universe, were both enlightening and profound.

As a writer, the book is a master class in RUE (resist the urge to explain). The reader is left to put the pieces of the jigsaw together in a way that the main character often isn’t able to. And, despite it being written in the first person, an entire world is unveiled surrounding the main character. I can’t begin to explain how so much was revealed with so little being said (certainly not without giving away spoliers.)

I think the enjoyment came from this, though. The reason the novel kept me awake was because I was actively involved in constructing the text, fleshing out the story, connecting the dots. The same was true of The Raven Boys, now I come to think about it. I’m starting to think of it as the art of secrets. Not glaringly obvious secrets, of the kind I might clumsily put in a novel – like Josh’s big secret in Two-Hundred Steps Home, or why Claire broke up with Michael. But more a subtle revelation of the bigger picture, like panning out in a movie and seeing the full context.

It is a goal I intend to aim for in my own novels, although I know I’ve got years of practice ahead of me before I get there. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught, but something that has to be learned through hard effort. I suspect it will also require me to become more a planner than a pantser. My natural writing style is to reveal everything as soon as it occurs to me (I’d make a rotten poker player). Instead I need to play it more like chess. Think fifteen moves ahead, prepared to change my plans if necessary, but keeping the moves secret for the reader to discover at the best moment.

I feel like my daughter; only just learning to read but wanting to be able to read adult books. I’m only just learning to write and I want to be able to write like that. Now! Now! Now! *Pouts*. Time to read a few craft books, consume a stack of fantastic novels, dip into a load more blogs and, more importantly, practice, practice, practice. I can feel (another) rewrite of Class Act coming. Bring it on.

Essential Empathy

Sherlock Series 1 Finale

Sherlock Series 1 Finale

Sat with hubbie watching Sherlock this evening, for only the second time (the finale to series 1 it seems and yes, I know; we’re always behind the times!), and I’m not enjoying it as much as the first episode I watched (which I think was series 3).

In this episode, Sherlock is tracking down someone who has set him puzzles to solve in a set time or he will blow up random strangers strapped to explosives. (Sorry, loglines have never been my forte!)

Sherlock has no empathy for the lives of the strangers, barely even registering them as people. It is difficult to watch. He explains to Watson that sympathising with the suffering of the victims wouldn’t help him solve the cases. I find his lack of emotion disturbing and, for me, it makes his character hard to relate to. The clever language and problem solving still make it compelling viewing, but empathy is essential to me. It’s interesting that, under ‘strengths’ in my character crib sheets, my female protagonists generally list empathy first.

Sherlock reminds me of Psych, another problem-solving drama, where the lead has exceptional powers of observation (which he explains away as being due to psychic powers). Psych, however, is much more lighthearted and the lead character, for all his occasional idiocy, has a big heart.

My latest read

My latest read

Maybe I am noticing it more because I have started reading The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. The story is written from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. It offers a unique insight into the mind of someone who understands “very little about human beings.”

Thinking about the characters in books and films that I love the most, they are all people with huge hearts (often despite hard exteriors): Gibbs in NCIS, for example, or Daniel in SG-1. People who understand people and not just so they can manipulate them.

Maybe Sherlock has a journey to go on. Perhaps I liked the series 3 episode better because he showed some heart. Certainly the hardest thing in fiction is portraying growth in a character and still being able to make them sympathetic characters before they start on their journey. Many a chick lit book has started with a protagonist I wanted to slap.

It’s a great excuse to keep watching Sherlock: to see if he grows, to see if he finds some empathy. To learn to write better fiction. And of course because you can’t beat clever TV.