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What is it like to be in someone else’s head? ‘The Curious Incident’ did a brilliant job of showing us the world from a new angle, revealing the confusion faced by someone who sees the world through the prism of autism. It helps to de-mystify this largely invisible condition. Finding other books that do the same thing in an equally readable and compelling way is hard. I hope I’ve managed, but what do you think?
My first book like ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ is not about autism, but schizophrenia. Matthew’s much loved older brother has died and this has clearly had a huge impact on Matthew. But this isn’t the full story. Somehow, Matthew appears to have been at least partly responsible for his brother’s death.
Matthew tells his own story. He tells us of his childhood, and of his life now as a young man striking out on his own. We see the concern of his family, and the attempts at intervention by people trying to help, but we also see his own belief that he is fine and doing well. Because it is told in his own words, we also believe he is fine and doing well. When he sees oddities in his own behaviour, so do we.
It’s a powerful way to tell a story as it asks you to view behaviour often seen as odd as normal. The glimpses of what others make of Matthew’s behaviour are cleverly written, and provide a form of context.
This is a new twist on child narrators. It is told, not by nine year old Max, but by Budo, his imaginary friend. Budo has a finite life span, he knows that, because all imaginary friends do. He’s already clung on longer than most.
His job is protect Max. Max has autism, and needs Budo. And he needs him more than ever when events take a frightening turn.
Unlike ‘The Curious Incident’, this isn’t a book about largely everyday occurrences (albeit triggered by one slightly odd event) which confuse the narrator. This is a book about an exceptional event which would be bewildering for anyone, let alone someone struggling with autism.
Five year old Jack only knows one place. Room. Everything beyond it is a fiction, a fantasy spun for him by his mother. His language is an odd mix of very naive and very adult, as it would be if you have spent your whole existence in just one space with only your mother for company.
As the story develops, so does your understanding of exactly what this situation is. You see, through Jack’s words, the desperation of a young woman imprisoned in a living hell, and her strength as she fights to make it normal for her son.
This is not a book about mental illness, but it is about perspective, unusual situations, and seeing the world from a naive point of view. You are more knowing than the narrator, but picking up clues for your knowledge from the narrator’s voice.
82 year old Maud is suffering from dementia. In order to help her make sense of her world she uses a system of paper notes stuck to things – even to remind her where the bathroom is.
What they can’t tell her is what has happened to her friend Elizabeth. As the story progresses parallels begin to emerge with the disappearance of Maud’s older sister.
Told from Maud’s point of view, this story reflects her confusion and increasingly difficult attempts to make sense of her surroundings, and also shows beautifully the way in which dementia sufferers can find it difficult to recall the present day while having clear recollections of times gone by.
A difficult read, and another chance to walk in someone else’s shoes.
What is normal? Is it the reality according to each individual, or is it a bench mark set by society? These books make you question ‘normal’, especially as it applies to thoughts and feelings. They take you into worlds that are often demonised and misunderstood, and get you to live these lives.
Do you have any others that you’d recommend?
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