Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Popular Fiction (page 1 of 3)

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini had been working as a medical internist for a few years in 1999, when he heard on the news that the Taliban had banned kite flying in Afghanistan. It “struck a personal chord” with him, given that kite flying had been his favourite sport when he was growing up in that neck of the woods. That chord inspired him to write a 25-page short story, which he eventually expanded to become The Kite Runner, his debut novel published in 2003 – the story of two young boys whose paths diverge after the Soviet military intervention, and the rise of the Taliban regime.

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The first half of The Kite Runner is set mostly in 1970s Afghanistan, and follows the strange friendship between two twelve-year-old boys. Amir grew up in a mansion, Hassan in the servants’ quarters. Both boys are motherless. Amir is a sometimes-cruel curious child with a distant but wealthy and powerful father. Hassan is his servant-cum-best-friend, kind and generous. The power in their relationship is distributed as unevenly as you’d imagine given its origins.

They are drawn together, aside from their shared geography and age, by their love of flying kites in local tournaments. Hassan is Amir’s “kite runner”; when Amir cuts down a kite, Hassan runs to retrieve it, seeming to know where it will land on instinct alone. At one particularly important tournament, Amir wins – the trophy, and his father’s attention, a real boon! Hassan runs to find the last kite cut, a great honour. Unfortunately, Hassan encounters the local bully, Assef, in an alleyway upon his return. When Hassan refuses to give up the kite, Assef beats him and (gulp, trigger warning, etc) rapes him. Amir sees what happens, but is too scared to intervene.

Naturally, this decision not to protect his friend haunts him. Amir avoids Hassan, and even goes so far as to plant a watch and some money under Hassan’s mattress to frame him for thievery, hoping it will cause his father to send Hassan and his dad away. It works, after a fashion, and they leave. If only Amir’s conscience was so easy to silence…

The second half of The Kite Runner follows Amir’s return to Afghanistan, some three decades later. He and his father fled to America in the 1980s. Their old family friend, Rahim Khan, begs Amir to return, to say farewell, as he is unwell and near death.

Of course, Rahim had an ulterior motive for luring Amir back to the homeland: he wanted Amir to find Hassan’s son, and care for him, as Hassan had recently been executed in the street by the Taliban, as had his wife. Ooft!

And the punches keep coming for Amir: it turns out Hassan was actually Amir’s biological half-brother, making his son, Sohrab, Amir’s nephew. Blood, water, you know the whole bit.

When Amir tracks down Sohrab, he finds that the boy was taken from an orphanage by a local Taliban leader to work in his house as a “dancing boy” (and subjected to awful abuses, it almost goes without saying). In a startling coincidence, that Taliban leader turns out to be Assef, the childhood bully-slash-rapist. There’s a violent confrontation, which leaves Amir severely wounded, but he and Sohrab manage to escape Assef’s clutches.

You’d think that’d be the end of The Kite Runner, but even after he recovers, Amir still faces an uphill battle to adopt Sohrab and get him back to the States. The process is so stressful for Sohrab, and he so fears ending up in another orphanage, that he (gulp, another trigger warning, hold onto your hat) slits his wrists in a bathtub. Luckily, he survives, but he’s not in good shape emotionally. The Kite Runner ends with Sohrab living in America, with Amir and his wife, but deeply depressed and traumatised by all that he has been through. It’s a resolution, but hardly a happy ending.

So, as you can see, the plot of The Kite Runner is almost Shakespearean, full of betrayals and daddy issues and blood that won’t wash off, set against the backdrop of war games that are larger than all of us. Amir only properly understands his privilege (wealth, security) in retrospect, narrating the story from the early 2000s (yes, September 11 comes in, towards the end). As such, it’s not until quite late in life – too late, you might say – that he can seek redemption and atone for the way he treated his childhood friend. I read a review from Sarah Smith in The Guardian that said The Kite Runner started off strong, but Hosseini seemed too focused on fully redeeming his protagonist, which led to too many wild coincidences that allowed Amir to face his demons. I reckon that’s spot on; Hosseini lost me around the time he revealed Assef as the local Taliban honcho holding Sohrab.

Like Amir, Hosseini was born in Afghanistan but left as a young boy, only to return in 2003. Of course, every journalist he’s ever spoken to has asked him “how autobiographical The Kite Runner is” (as though that’s the only interesting thing about a man of his background). Hosseini has said “When I say some of it is me, then people look unsatisfied. The parallels are pretty obvious, but… I left a few things ambiguous because I wanted to drive the book clubs crazy.”

Ah, yes, the book clubs! The Kite Runner sold pretty well upon its initial release in hardback, but it wasn’t until it was released in paperback (the preferred format of book clubs) that it really exploded. It hit the bestseller lists in late 2004, and stayed there for two years. It’s still widely beloved, but not universally. The American Library Association’s statistics show that it was one of the most-frequently banned and challenged books of 2008 (with parents trying to remove it from school libraries due to its “offensive language” and explicit content). Plus, a lot of Afghan American readers have expressed anger at Hosseini’s depiction of Pashtuns as oppressors and Hazaras as the oppressed.

Obviously, I’m not really in a position to comment on that last point. What I can tell you is that The Kite Runner is a good read, and a newly-resonant one (given what has happened in Kabul these past couple of months), but there are too many convenient coincidences and foreseeable twists for it to really get my motor running. Go ahead and read it if you’re interested, but steel yourself for those trigger warnings I mentioned!

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Kite Runner:

  • “a good gift to give! came in amazon condition” – leeann
  • “The writing is astonishingly bad. Clunky, awkward, amateurish. I winced and gringed all the way through.” – Greta F.
  • “I keep seeing the word “redemptive” used, but there is no redemption here. The main character attempts to restore hope and order to all the awfulness he causes by flying a kite. That’s not redemptive. That’s a hobby.” – Gregory A. Alan

The Swans Of Fifth Avenue – Melanie Benjamin

Whenever I find a book I really love, I find myself becoming curious about the author’s life off the page. That’s what drew me to The Swans Of Fifth Avenue (that, and a long-ago recommendation on a podcast, though I can’t remember which one – darn it, I really need to start writing these down!). In this historical fiction novel, Melanie Benjamin tells the story of how Truman Capote infiltrated, and then betrayed, the socialites of Manhattan’s upper-est echelons. After the riotous success of In Cold Blood, he found himself in need of a story, so he befriended the Ladies Who Lunch and then used their lives as fodder. Yes, that really happened, and Benjamin wrote a novel about it!

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The Swans Of Fifth Avenue is exactly what you’d hope of a novel about 1950s New York high society: heavy on the sparkle and scandal, the gossip and glitz. This is back when literature was still glamorous and everyone knew everyone (worth knowing). Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wharton all get name-checked in the very first chapter.

Babe Paley is the Queen Bee of the socialite “Swans”. She’s a press darling, wealthy beyond measure, and transcendent with beauty. By any account, she “has it all”… so, of course, she’s secretly miserable. Her friends are phony, her husband a philanderer, and her material world is lacking any true love or respect.

Along comes Truman Capote, an impish gay (i.e., non-threatening) writer on the come up. He catches a ride on Babe’s private jet (well, her husband’s, and he – in fairness – was expecting “Truman” the former president, not “Truman” the cheeky ink slinger). Capote and Babe recognise each other as kindred spirits and become instant friends.

Babe brings Capote into her glittering world almost as soon as they land. She introduces him to all of the Swans, and before long they’re trading gossip and going on shopping sprees and getting snapped by the paps on the street. Babe entrusts Capote with her deepest, darkest secrets about her sexless marriage and search for meaning. (Spoiler alert: BIG mistake! Big! HUGE!)

Capote is quickly revealed to be a mischievous (at best) or malevolent (at worst) liar. He tells different versions of the same story: to Babe, he says his childhood was dreadful, but to Slim (her best friend, the brassiest Swan) he says that it was wonderful. He smiles and nods at acquaintances in restaurants, only to savage them to all who’ll listen as soon as they leave the room. He comes across as a pernicious little twit, but undeniably great fun to have over for dinner. One thing I did note as I was reading The Swans Of Fifth Avenue is that Capote is portrayed as a lot more boyish and vulnerable than he has been in other fictionalised versions of his life – I’m thinking mainly of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal in the film Capote. Only towards the end of the book did he morph into the bloated, desperate alcoholic that’s more familiar to me.

The publication of In Cold Blood is the turning point in his career, and his relationships with the Swans. Basically, Capote gets real high off his own fumes, and it’s not a graceful comedown. After the success of his true crime novel, and the big party he throws to celebrate his own triumph, he struggles to write anything that he feels comes close to the expectations (that he has stoked) of his adoring public and publishers. Lacking any other muses, he writes La Cote Basque, 1965: a very, very thinly veiled short story about one Lady Ina Coolbirth and her high-society friends at brunch. “The characters” trade stories and gossip about, oh, I don’t know, sexless philandering husbands and squalid one night stands.

Capote thinks he’s been very clever and literary, of course, but his delusion is shattered upon publication. All of his friends recognise themselves immediately – one socialite actually takes her own life after reading the story – and Capote is blacklisted. All of the glitz and glamour is torn away from him, and he can’t even get his former best friends to pick up the phone when he calls. It’s a tragic fall from grace, but one that feels very deserved.

Of course, the constant distraction of reading any novelisation of a true story is always present in The Swans Of Fifth Avenue: how much of it is true? (The same could be said of Capote’s work, ahem!) Benjamin addresses this in her author’s note:

“All of [this book’s] characters were incurable liars in life. This gave me quite a lot of leeway… All conversations are imagined, although some—like the conversation between Truman Capote and Liz Smith near the end—are known to have occurred… The timeline is faithful. The fallout from Answered Prayers is true to life. The relationships are real; in other words, Truman and Babe and Bill Paley were that tight little trio; Slim was Babe’s closest female friend… The emotions are what I imagine; the motivations and intent behind some of these documented acts. The facts are the bones upon which I stretch the fictionalised flesh.”

Author’s note (The Swans Of Fifth Avenue)

I was really grateful to her for providing this context – though maybe putting them in a foreword would have made it easier to focus on the fun imagined elements throughout, instead of stopping to Google each new character as they were introduced.

The Swans Of Fifth Avenue is highly readable, the same way that Prosecco is highly drinkable on a sunny afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed this delicious gossipy take on Capote’s misdeeds. Perhaps it could’ve been a little leaner, a little meaner, but it was great fun to read as it is. I’d recommend this one if you’re in the mood escape to a past when there were no Instagram or Twitter accounts letting the rich and fabulous “control their own narratives”.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Swans Of Fifth Avenue:

  • “I was lured in to read ‘The Swans of Fifth Avenue’ by the subject and I expected some interesting and intriguing insights into the world of 1950s coming-of-age television and book publishing, with a tidbit or two, or 20, of the intertwining of Manhattan’s rich and famous, most notably Babe Paley and Truman Capote. That was not the case and this was certainly the wrong book for me to read at the end of life-sucking 2020. The key “swan” characters were an insipid group of self-important, vapid, whining gazillionaires with first-world problems that are common and trite.” – Cindy
  • “Mostly a story following Truman Capote and his “Swans”. He was a strange little man..” – Lisa Christian

The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang

For a while now, I’ve been thinking I should really seek out an #OwnVoices alternative to The Rosie Project. I settled on The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, a book about a woman who lives with an autism spectrum disorder written by (dramatic pause) a woman who lives with an autism spectrum disorder. It was first published back in 2018, and it made quite a splash – mostly for the no-holds-barred steamy scenes and the awesome diverse cast of characters…

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Meet Stella: our protagonist, a successful woman who loves her work as an econometrician and is generally happy with her life. Cue inciting incident: her parents tell her they want grandchildren, ASAP, and they think it would be good for her to start dating – specifically, dating Philip, the office lech.

Stella isn’t particularly fussed on men and dating. Her previous experiences have been decidedly lackluster. But, she figures she lacks practice, and what’s the most rational way to go about improving her skills (social and… otherwise)? Hire an escort, of course! She hires Michael, a gorgeous escort she finds online, to teach her how to date and fuck with the best of them.

Michael isn’t the kind of two-dimensional manic pixie dream boy we’ve become all-too-accustomed too. He has A PAST (which is alluded to, lots, before it finally comes out). But aside from that, he also has interests (martial arts), a day job (at his mother’s dry-cleaner), and a family he loves more than anything.

The Kiss Quotient is effectively a gender-bending Pretty Woman, and it makes for a surprisingly sweet and romantic story – the perfect blend of endearing and sexy, a combination that’s difficult to get right. I think Hoang nailed the balance between romance (i.e., sexy times) and plot, which made it all the more enjoyable to read. It’s a perfect step up from your penny Harlequins about princes and pirates, without the ick factor of a Fifty Shades.

Stella is hypersensitive, to smells and touch and sound, which means Hoang’s writing is really rich in descriptive detail that goes beyond the visual. From the texture of Michael’s jacket to the sound of a nightclub, Hoang paints a really vivid portrait for the reader. And, I must say, this dedication to description extends to the sexy fun times Michael and Stella have together. The door is WIDE OPEN, folks. Hoang isn’t here to fuck around. The Kiss Quotient is steamy as heck.

The dangling mystery of Michael’s past – only revealed at the climax – is actually kind of annoying, though. Hoang drops constant hints, never letting us forget for one second that this dreamboat escort has a “dark side” or whatever. The upside is at least Stella’s autism wasn’t the main/only obstacle keeping them from being together. The dynamics and balance of the romance are really pleasing, in that both the parties to it have their own baggage and their own power. Neither is faultless, and neither is helpless. Their affection for each other feels genuine and intimate, despite the commercial aspect.

Stella is particularly relatable – even for readers who don’t live with/aren’t familiar with autism – for her simple but powerful desire to be loved. That’s something we’ve surely all experienced, at one time or another. Her autism is not the only facet of her personality, nor is it the only interesting thing about her; she ever feels like a token or a stereotype.

It seems a shame, then, that Hoang has used a few problematic sex worker tropes with Michael’s character. The sex-worker-with-a-heart-of-gold thing is tired and yucky. I’m also not sure how I feel about the implied idea that autism-related intimacy issues can be magically cured by a sex god (but then again, I’m neurotypical, so it’s probably not for me to say whether that’s okay or not).

All told, I’d say The Kiss Quotient isn’t perfect, but its flaws are forgivable for the fact that it’s a step up from the alternatives and it’s real fun to read. It’s perfect for fans of The Wedding Date (the Debra Messing movie, not the Jasmine Guillory book, though that recommendation would probably hold up, too). It’s a solid summer read if you’re looking for something sexy to take to the beach when the warmer weather returns.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Kiss Quotient:

  • “Cute but wasn’t what I expected. Easy read but also very sexually graphic and reminded me how very single I am.” – Kindle Customer
  • “Sex: multiple scenes, including oral
    Language: 68 F words, 20 Lord’s name in vain, 34 S words
    Violence: forced kisses, black eye
    Cliffhanger: no
    Do I need to read books before this one: no
    Would I read more of the series: YES” – dncall
  • “Half of the book is used to describe how the couple has sex in details.” – wilson

Daisy Jones And The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

I said I wouldn’t do it… but I did. I swore up and down I wouldn’t review Daisy Jones And The Six because it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, could it? But, eventually, the constant exposure and the endless stream of recommendations wore me down. I ran an Instagram poll (because I wanted to be sure that Keeper Upperers weren’t sick of hearing about Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestseller elsewhere), and a full 100% of respondents said I should review it. So, here we are.

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Daisy Jones And The Six tells the story of a (fictional) 1970s pop-rock band, from their formation to international fame and chart-topping hits. It’s styled as an oral history, a Behind The Music-esque series of interviews with the band members, aimed at uncovering – for the first time – why the band split at the height of their success. As the tagline on the cover promises, everyone was there, but everyone remembers it differently.

A few facts are not in contention, however. The titular Daisy Jones was a late addition to the band. She was a ’70s It Girl, raised by hippie parents who paid her little attention, so she sought it on Sunset Strip. She was – naturally – a talented singer and songwriter, but she had little patience for the training it takes to hone such skills. Instead, she spent most of her time partying and popping pills, until The Six needed a female vocalist on a track from their forthcoming album. That’s when she met Billy Dunne.

Ah, Billy Dunne: the rock’n’roll bad-boy in top-to-toe denim, and his own substance problems to boot. He and Daisy had a chemistry that no one could deny… except, it would seem, his loving and faithful wife Camila. Billy got clean shortly before Daisy joined the band permanently, but the drugs and the girl remained a constant temptation, threatening the solid foundations of his marriage and his fatherhood. He sought control in the only place he could find it: the creative direction of the band. Needless to say, that didn’t go down so well with those who make up the rest of The Six.

If you’re getting a strong whiff of Fleetwood Mac, you’re not alone. To her credit, Reid doesn’t deny it. In almost every interview she did for publicity after the release of Daisy Jones And The Six, she formally acknowledged that the band was her inspiration for the novel. She insists, however, that it’s a “vibe”, rather than a re-telling. She “just wanted to listen to Rumors, and needed a good excuse”. Hats off to her for being so frank about it; lesser authors would have hidden behind the “all characters and events are entirely fictional” disclaimer.

Daisy Jones And The Six is an easy read, without insulting your intelligence. Reid’s writing is really effective, in the sense that she builds the tension in such a way that you keep telling yourself “just one more chapter, to see how this plays out”. Occasionally, in the beginning, the language felt a bit stilted, as though this supposed “transcript” of an oral history had been corrected to read more like the Queen’s English. It got smoother over time, or maybe I just got more forgiving.

I think reading and appreciating this book (and reviewing it, ahem!) is best suited to readers who have an interest in the nuts-and-bolts of music production and the wider industry. Cards on the table, here: I’m the daughter of a musician (my father was a bass player for decades, including the one in which Daisy Jones And The Six is set). My bed-time stories as a kid were about dickhead managers and cops raiding hotel rooms and other events I’m sure Dad doesn’t want me putting in writing (ahem-ahem, a hint to those who know as to how I feel about the ending). At times, my insight was an impediment to my enjoyment. When the drummer, Warren, said he “wanted to be Ringo”, I literally snorted. No real drummer has ever wanted to be Ringo. The Beatles were gods, we’ve seen none like them before or since, but Ringo was barely a drummer’s arsehole. Aside from that, Warren was the most realistic, believable, and likeable of all the characters.

“WARREN: Let me sum up that early tour for you: I was getting laid, Graham was getting high, Eddie was getting drunk, Karen was getting fed up, Pete was getting on the phone to his girl back home, and Billy was all five, all at once.”

Daisy Jones And The Six, Page 67

The differing accounts of “the facts” was a masterstroke by Reid. Get any group of friends to tell you a story, and you’ll get these kinds of discrepancies. That’s where the faux-documentary style was ideal; it allowed Reid to tell the story from multiple angles, and let us read between the lines. I changed my mind chapter-to-chapter as to whose version I believed. Eddie was too bitter to see things objectively, Daisy too high, Billy too invested in his ego, Graham too distracted by his fling with Karen on keyboards…

One concern I’ve seen parroted time and again in other reviews is that Daisy Jones And The Six “glamourises” drug taking. The thing is, drugs were kind of glamorous (and still are, to an extent). Is anyone really denying that? I thought Reid actually did a good job of portraying the downside, too. Her characters disappointed the people who loved them, experienced severe physical side effects and ramifications, made truly terrible decisions while high and had to deal with the fall-out… and, from a craft standpoint, it helped sell each and every one of the band members as an unreliable narrator. So, that’s how I feel about that.

Okay, confession time: I knew where Daisy Jones And The Six was headed all along. I knew because I never expected I’d read or review it, so I just blasted past the spoiler warnings on other blogs and podcasts. I won’t outright spoil it for the (surely very few) people out there who have yet to read it, but I feel compelled to give some veiled impressions of the ending for those who have…

I was kind of surprised that the “big shock twist” regarding the story’s narration and premise came only thirty pages from the end. It felt a bit haphazard. In fact, it kind of ruined Daisy Jones And The Six for me, completely disrupted the “flow” of what (until then) had been a really effective narrative framing device. In fact, it smacked of a cheap ploy to elicit tears from the reader, which – in turn – cheapened a book that (again, until then) had been well-crafted.

I’m also a bit shocked by all the other reviews that say something to the effect of “Oh, I wish these songs were real!”. I glanced over the lyric sheets included in the back of the book, and… well… I would’ve preferred they left them out. Daisy Jones And The Six isn’t about the music. It’s about The Drama(TM). It’s about the voyeuristic thrill of going backstage at a big rock concert. It’s about the soap opera we imagine playing out behind the scenes. Why can’t we just leave it at that?

But, hey: I’m not here to shit on something just because it’s popular. Daisy Jones And The Six is a good yarn. I enjoyed reading it. I might send a copy to my father, just for the laughs we’d have dissecting it together. But it didn’t rock my world the way it seems to have rocked everyone else’s. As I always say, every book will find its reader, and even if that reader isn’t me, Daisy Jones And The Six has found plenty of others. I certainly won’t shy away from picking up another of Reid’s books, if the standard of this one is anything to go by.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Daisy Jones And The Six:

  • “The interview concept didn’t work for me. I could not imagine the scenes in my head but a conference room with 20 confusing old hippies around it.” – Maria Ferrer
  • “I couldn’t put it down. I loved everything about this book. The way it was written, the way the characters interacted with each other, and Daisy Jones. Daisy is everything I wanted to be; Janice Joplin and Stevie Nicks all rolled into one.” – Kristonian
  • “This was one of the worst books I’ve ever read! If it wasn’t on audible I never would have finished it. Zero excitement. A loyal husband is great in real life but not a very interesting read when it’s supposed to be a 70s rockband. Cheesy ending.” – Jmag
  • “Took me a while to work our was fictional. After I found that out I didn’t keep going.” – nanny bump

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time – Mark Haddon

In your standard murder mystery novel, a hard-boiled detective sorts clues from red herrings to track down the murderer of a young woman. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is different. It is a self-proclaimed mystery novel, with the requisite crime and investigation format, but the victim is a neighbourhood pet and the detective is 15-year-old Christopher, a young man who perceives the world differently.

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Christopher is read (by most readers, anyway) as having Asperger Syndrome, or having some kind of autism spectrum disorder. As a character, he describes himself as being “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”. Haddon, the author, insists that The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is “not specifically about any specific disorder” (which makes the choice to give Christopher so many traits commonly associated with Asperger’s and other developmental disorders very strange). I feel like it’s an “easy out” for Haddon to say that Christopher has “no specific disorder”, because – as he admits – he is neurotypical and has no expertise in this area.

“I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger syndrome. I gave [Christopher] kind of 9 or 10 rules that he would live his life by, and then I didn’t read any more about Asperger’s because I think there is no typical person who has Asperger syndrome, and they’re as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society.”

Mark Haddon

He’s right, of course, in saying that people with Asperger’s – and other types of mental and neurological disorders – are a large, diverse group who cannot be adequately captured in or represented by a single fictional character. It’s good that he didn’t try. But I think his lack of expertise and experience explains why his characterisation sometimes felt so… flat. Christopher didn’t jump off the page to me, the way that other neurodiverse characters have (I’m thinking of Zelda in When We Were Vikings as an example). Christopher’s “no specific disorder” seemed to be the only remarkable characteristic he had, and it coloured every description or insight we may have had into his mind and his life.

But let’s leave that alone for now, and get back to the story. When Christopher discovers his neighbour’s dog dead in her backyard (yes, I cried, dog deaths slay me – RIP Wellington!), he takes it upon himself to find the culprit. He decides to write down (i.e., narrate) the details of his investigation in the form of a murder mystery novel, and that’s the frame for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Christopher continues his investigation, interrogating neighbours and collecting evidence, despite his father’s express instruction to stay out of other people’s business.

His home life, he slowly reveals to us, is a bit screwy. His mother is dead, and his father – Ed – probably isn’t going to win any trophies for parenting. Ed has been raising Christopher as a single parent for two years when the story begins, and yet Christopher seems to have more affinity (and respect) for Siobhan, his paraprofessional and mentor at school. She takes the time to explain behaviour and rules to Christopher in a way that makes sense to him, and he relies on her guidance to help him navigate the world.

Christopher solves the case in the end (of course), and uncovers a whole bunch of other mysteries and adventures along the way. That makes it sound a bit cutesy, but trust me, they’re sometimes dark and sometimes horrifying. I won’t give them all away, other than to say that most readers will find the story very moving. If I’m honest, the dog murder was the most upsetting bit for me (and you can keep any analysis of what that says about me to yourself, thanks!).

To circle back around to what I was saying earlier, Christopher’s character just didn’t quite pull me in the way it seems to have pulled in others. Perhaps I’m simply spoiled for having read other, brilliant representations of neurodiverse characters in the seventeen years since this one was first released. For me, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time was fairly good… but not great, and certainly not as great as I’d hoped.

I’m fairly lonely in my lukewarm reception of this one. Haddon won the 2003 Whitbread Book Of The Year award for it, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and a whole stack of others – it was even long-listed for the Booker! Its popularity endures, too. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time has been translated into over 35 languages, transformed into a stage adaptation, rights sold for a film adaptation (though no movement at that station yet), and named as one of the Guardian’s 100 best books of the 21st century. So, don’t let me put you off!

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time:

  • “This book is aggressively ok. I mean that as a compliment, honestly. Christopher is a really enjoyable character and I feel he tells his story with just the right amount of enthusiasm to keep you going. The militant atheism wears on you a bit, and I say that as a devout agnostic.” – The Professor
  • “Got as I gift but when the book arrived I kind of wanted to keep for myself.” – Amazon Customer
  • “Christophar was lit.” – daiyan ahmed
  • “What was the point? Just to tell a story of one’s life? Totally narcissistic in my opinion Not a fan Should have disclaimer” – Shelley
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