Book Reviews June 2013

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
Mark Haddon
£7.99 less £1
Christopher Boone is 15. He knows “all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,507”. He lives in Swindon with his father and Toby, his pet rat. He abhors all yellow and brown things, thinks he would make a good astronaut, and has never been further than the end of the road on his own until his discovery of the “murder” of his neighbour’s dog turns him into an amateur detective.
Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome, though this is never specified. Mark Haddon’s study of the condition is superbly realised, but this is not simply a novel about disability. Haddon uses his narrator’s innocence as a means of commenting on the emotional and moral confusion in the lives of the adults around him. Christopher sees everything, remembers everything, but cannot prioritise – cannot sift out what most of us regard as important. On the day he is told his mother is dead, he records his Scrabble score, and notes that supper was spaghetti with tomato sauce. But he isn’t callous or indifferent. He can cope with facts, with concrete detail; emotions confuse and alarm him.
Haddon’s inclusion of diagrams, timetables, maps, even maths problems, extends the normal scope of novel-writing and demonstrates the rich idiosyncrasies of the autistic brain.
This is a remarkable book. If only everyone could read it, society would become a much more understanding and accepting place for those who suffer from the effects of conditions such as Aspergers, ADHD and Autism.

Hugh Howey
£6.99 less £1
This is a world where the air is deadly, and where humanity has lived ever since anyone can remember, in a giant underground silo, a bunker hundreds of storeys deep, creating everything people need beneath the earth. The outside world can only be seen through a blurry image projected onto a wall, “lifeless hills … a familiar rotting skyline … ancient glass and steel”. The filth of the atmosphere gradually coats the cameras capturing the view, and the silo’s capital punishment is “cleaning”: the criminal is sent outside to polish the lenses before being overcome by poisonous gases.
The first instalment covers the last hours of Holston, the sheriff of the silo, as he prepares to follow in the footsteps of his wife Allison who went out “cleaning” three years earlier.
After struggling to understand why she left him, a growing belief that people are not being told the truth about the world sees him in one of his own cells saying he wants to “go outside”. The second instalment sees Mayor Jahns and Holston’s deputy Marnes seeking the best candidate to replace the sheriff and introduces us to Juliette, Wool’s heroine, a tough but ingenuous mechanic destined to clash with the ruler of the silo.
The response of readers to his first short story made Howey write more tales exploring his subterranean world, with each of the next four instalments becoming larger in volume and greater in scope.

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Joanne Harris
Black Swan
£7.99 less £1
Even before it was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, Joanne Harris’s Chocolat entranced readers with its mix of hedonism, whimsy, and, of course, chocolate. Now, at last, Chocolat’s heroine returns to the beautiful French village of Lansquenet in another, equally beguiling tale.
When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to return to Lansquenet, where she once owned a chocolate shop and learned the meaning of home. But returning to one’s past can be a dangerous pursuit, and Vianne and her daughters find the beautiful French village changed in unexpected ways: women veiled in black, the scent of spices in the air, and—facing the church—a minaret. Most surprising of all, her old nemesis, Francis Reynaud, desperately needs her help. Can Vianne work her magic once again?