The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

After everyone and their dog have read it (pun unintended), I got around to reading The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Written by Mark Haddon, the novel follows a mathematically gifted autistic pre-teen Christopher as he tries to find out who killed his neighbour’s dog. He discovers Mrs. Shears’s dog Wellington dead one night with a garden fork sticking through it. Being an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes’s mysteries, Christopher decides to find out the culprit. The detection leads him and his loved ones through an emotional journey causing much grief and in the end, a bit of happiness.

The book is narrated by Christopher himself as he tries to jot down his adventure. We get to see/hear/smell the world through the eyes/ears/nose of an autistic child. Being born with a kind of autism called Asperger Syndrome, Christopher sees mathematical numbers and patterns in everything around him. Unlike other humans, his moods and decisions are heavily influenced by these patterns. His social and communication skills are severely stunted and he needs the help of his dad to look after himself. More than the dog murder mystery (which is actually pretty lame), the book generates a lot of thought about autism. Christopher’s autistic view of the world is vivid and absorbing. Also, the reader gets to see the hardships of a family tending to such a child and how society treats them. These are what make this book stand out.

TCIOTDIN won the Whitbread Book Of The Year award in 2003. It is a small book and can be read in a noon.

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  • Chapters in the book are numbered in prime numbers. Christopher says he did this because:

    “Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. […] prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”

  • The book’s protagonist solves mathematical equations and puzzles in his head when he is emotionally disturbed to make those feelings go away. One of these puzzles is the Conway’s Soldiers. The intrigue in this puzzle is that no matter how big a board or how large the number of soldiers you start out with, you discover that you cannot move beyond 4 rows.
  • The Monty Hall Problem also makes an appearance in the book. P had discussed this problem in detail on his journal. Back then I had said that though I could understand the proof, I did not feel it was right in my gut. In this book, the proof is depicted using a simple figure. On looking at it, it immediately became clear to me! 🙂
  • The book’s subject might look serious, but the book is infact quite fun to read. Here is an example:

    (Christopher is at a train station ticket counter. He is trying to buy a ticket to London. He’s never been to a train station before in his life.)

    And then there was no one else in front of the window and I said to the man behind the window, “I want to go to London,” […]
    And the man said, “Single or return?”
    And I said, “What does single or return mean?”
    And he said, “Do you want to go one way, or do you want to go and come back?”
    And I said, “I want to stay there when I get there.”
    And he said, “For how long?”
    And I said, “Until I go to university.”
    And he said, “Single, then,” and then he said, “That’ll be £32.”

Lord Of The Flies

I read Lord Of The Flies during the weekend. The book is authored by William Golding who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. It begins on a deserted island where a bunch of boys are stranded after a plane crash. Soon, Ralph emerges as a leader among them through a vote of hands. A fat smart kid nicknamed Piggy becomes his intellectual counsel. Together they think their situation over and decide that the boys need to keep a fire burning on the island so that they can be rescued by passing ships. Ralph also restores order by setting rules for discussion (using a white conch as the token), assigning boys to build shelters for resting and collecting food. But, there is a rebel in the midst named Jack who is jealous of Ralph’s power. He prefers a dictatorial style of leadership. He soon starts drawing boys to his side by teaching them to hunt the pigs of the island for food. As the days go by, the chance of rescue wanes, Jack’s power grows, Ralph loses support, the social order of the boys breaks down and the island slips into barbaric chaos.

On the surface, the book is a nice read of kids surviving on a deserted island. But, this is no book for kids. Below, it is a full blown allegory to the various forms of human nature, society, leadership and political formations. The boys start off with a system similar to democracy under Ralph. That slowly deteriorates to end up as dictatorship and brutality under Jack. This transition is in the exact opposite order of how humans evolved from cave dwelling brutes to civilized democracies. The last book I read with such a strong allegory was Life Of Pi. LOTF is a pretty small book and can be easily read in a day. This is an excellent read.

India In Slow Motion

Mark Tully has been reporting for BBC in India for more than 20 years. He’s been in the thick of everything that has shaped our nation — the Emergency, Indira’s and Rajiv’s assassinations, the droughts, the floods, the IT wave and the liberalization. Mark Tully and Gillian Wright travelled extensively around India talking to people of all kinds about India’s past and present problems for their book India In Slow Motion.

The book is broken into sections, each dealing with a problem facing our country. Some of the subjects of the book are Kashmir, water, farmer suicides, child labour and religion. The travels to far-off places, the interviews with rustic people are delightful and eye opening. In every single aspect, the government and bureaucracy turn out to be impediments. Also, it seems like the state governments have little autonomy, having to depend on the Center for everything. This stands out clearly in the progressive states for whom the Center has just become a roadblock. And even in this bleak landscape, there are people with the spirit to make change. The takeaway for me from the book was the extensive historical origins of each problem that the authors detail. Tully does satirical takes on everything and everyone. For Indians, it might be a bit depressing to go through the book in a single read. I read it over several nights, this was easy since it is broken into independent sections. This is a good thoughtful read.

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