Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I had no idea this novel was considered a book for young adults until I had to track it down in the juvenile section of the library. It's not shelved as young adult in bookstores, and seems beloved by book clubs. I'm comfortable crossing over to young adult reading, but what was interesting about Curious Incident... is it really strikes me as appropriate for kid readers much more than adult readers. Sometimes novels with young protagonists--Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid is a good example--get misidentified as being for young adult readers, when really they are quite sophisticated. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. What seems even more interesting is this isn't a case of adults wanting to feel like kids--the Harry Potter phenomenon--but rather adults wanting an easy read.

Curious Incident certainly could be a novel for adults even though it is narrated by a 14 -year-old autistic child who does not have the capability for sophisticated reflection, but Haddon hasn't added that layer. The things that the reader understands but the narrator doesn't are quite simple (his parents are terrible parents, for one). He has not given the kind of cultural, political context that elevates Annie John beyond the limits of the narrator's understanding. So why isn't anyone admitting that this is a book for kids? I think we want to feel smart, and so sometimes we like things that are easy but not stupid (the voice is good, it's a well-written book). But I would probably have been much more satisified if I hadn't gone into the novel expecting something more complex.

But what I meant to write about is that voice. It's interesting how "kid voice" in literature is not at all like kid's real voices. Of course, nobody would want to read a novel narrated in the way that a kid--or even an adult, I suppose--really speaks. We want some artistry to the voice. So authors have adopted this lyric kid voice (the narrative voice of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is near identical to Haddon's, even though Foer's kid is nine and not autistic), where the kid speaks in long sentences full of simple words. I wonder if it's time for a new kid voice. Something that's equally interesting to read, but not so familiar.