Sunday, August 17, 2008

Seeing the World Differently

Walker found a new YA book at the library and recommended it to me; The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd. It's like Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in that it's told by a narrator who has autism, or something like it. As the narrator, Ted, describes it:

"'It's like the brain is a computer,' I said. 'But mine works on a different operating system from other people's. And my wiring's different too....It means I am very good at thinking about facts and how things work and the doctors say I am at the high-functioning end of the spectrum....My syndrome means I am good at remembering big things, like important facts about the weather. But I'm always forgetting small things, like my school gym bag.'"

What's fun about this book is that Ted solves the mystery of his cousin's disappearance (from the London Eye, hence the title). What I liked about the book is that no one condescends to Ted. They do ignore him sometimes, but he's 12. When you're 12, people don't always stop to listen to you in a crisis, no matter what kind of brain you have.

Reading this book, I was reminded of the pleasure of reading Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana books, starting with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, because Ted's thoughts are so calm and collected, as Mma Ramotswe's often are. Here's a sample:

"Something terrible happened during those fifty-four minutes [as he waits to see if his cousin is dead]. No amount of making up shipping forecasts could stop me from thinking about it. Death. I realized it was real. I would die one day. Kat would die. Mum would die. Dad would die. Aunt Gloria would die. Mr Shepherd at school would die. Every living thing on this planet would die. It was not a question of if but when. Of course, I'd known about death before. But during those fifty-four minutes I really knew it. That's when I realized that there are two kinds of knowledge: shallow and deep. You can know something in theory but not know it in practice. You can know part of something but not all of it. Knowledge can be like the skin on the surface of the water in a pond, or it can go all the way down to the mud. It can be the tiny tip of the iceberg or the whole hundred per cent.
I thought of the long chain of all the days of my life and wondered how far along that chain I'd already got. Was I still just starting, halfway along, or nearing the end? If it was Salim on the cold slab, did he know when he got up this morning that he'd reaching the last link on the chain?"

This book is a quick, calming, and satisfying read, and at 323 pages, it won't take you too long.

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