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Powell's Q&A | September 3, 2014

Emily St. John Mandel: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Emily St. John Mandel



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    Station Eleven

    Emily St. John Mandel 9780385353304

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Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (03 Edition)

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Author Q & A

What research did you do into Autism and Behavioural problems before writing this novel, is Christopher's character based on anyone in particular?

After leaving university I spent several years working with adults and children who had a variety of physical and mental handicaps (as they were then known). Ever since that time I've been interested in the subject of disability and mental illness. As a result, hardly a week goes by without me reading an newspaper article or watching a television documentary about schizophrenia or manic depression or Tourette's… And hardly a month goes by without me meeting yet another person who is the parent or grandparent of someone who has been diagnosed as having Asperger's. I also know a number of adults (men, mostly) who would almost certainly be diagnosed with the syndrome if they had been born twenty, thirty, forty years later. And that was the extent of my 'research'. I deliberately didn't consult fat tomes on Asperger's or visit special schools when I was working on the book because I wanted Christopher to work as a human being and not as a clinical case study.

The book has been published for adults and children simultaneously; did you set out to write a book which would appeal to such a wide age range?

No. I wrote it to entertain myself (which is, I think, the motivation behind any half-decent novel) in the hope that there would people out there who shared my interests and obsessions. So the much-vaunted 'crossover appeal' came as a very pleasant surprise.

Have you received any positive feedback from people with Aspergers Syndrome/ Autism, their families, or people who work with them?

To be scrupulously honest… the book had one very bad review from a young man with Asperger's who thought the book was bad, mainly because Christopher wasn't like him or like any other people he knew with Asperger's. But the review missed the point, I think. People with Asperger's are as diverse a group as Belgians or trumpet players or train drivers. There is no typical or representative person with Asperger's. And to try and create one would have produced a stereotype.

On the other hand I've been genuinely moved and completely taken by surprise by the number of parents and grandparents of young people with Asperger's who have written to tell me that the book rings completely true for them.

I have been even more surprised to receive several invitations to address academic conferences on Asperger's and Autism. Which misses the point in a different way, I think. If Christopher seems real it's because he's well-written not because I'm an expert in the area. We live in an age obsessed with documentaries, with biographies, with investigative journalism. We often forget that you can have all the facts but be no nearer the truth. And this is what novels are good at. A novel can put you inside another person's head and give you an understanding of their life you could only get by moving into their house for six months.

How did you come up with such and original idea for a novel?

It happened piece by piece and without any deliberate seeking after originality or quirkiness. I began with the image of the dog stabbed with the fork simply because I was searching for a vivid and gripping way of starting a novel. I then realised that if you described it in a flat, emotionless, neutral way it was also (with apologies to all dog lovers) very funny. So I had the voice. Only after using that voice for a few pages did I work out who it belonged to. Having done that the difficult thing was to work out a believable way for Christopher to construct a novel given that he is utterly unaware of the reader's emotional responses to what he is writing. Having Christopher simply copy his hero, Sherlock Holmes, by borrowing the format of the murder mystery was the solution to this problem. Finally, because I genuinely believed that very few people would want to read a novel about a teenage boy with a disability living in Swindon with his dad, I arranged the whole plot round the central turning point (where we discover who killed Wellington and what really happened to Christopher's mother) to make it as entertaining as possible, hopefully dragging the reader up to a highest point right in the middle, like a roller coaster, then speeding them down towards the conclusion.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Jeane, February 13, 2008 (view all comments by Jeane)
This book is not about a dog. Nor is it a mystery story. It is a monologue with many digressions into mathematical musings, from the point of view of an autistic teenager. It have a very unique voice. But the story is rather simple: Christopher finds his neighbor's dog dead in her yard. He determines to find out who did it. His investigations lead him to discover not only who killed the dog (halfway through the book) but to uncover a hidden family secret that throws his orderly life into chaos and unsettles his already dysfunctional family. The most poignant aspect of it all is that he relates the most emotionally wrenching incidents with no hint of emotion at all, or even understanding. A very poignant description of what it might be like inside an autistic child's mind.
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SterDoc, February 22, 2007 (view all comments by SterDoc)
If you liked The Catcher in the Rye you'll love this book. Intelligent in its own unique way and soon to become an instant classic!
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385659802
Author:
Haddon, Mark
Publisher:
Anchor Canada
Location:
Toronto
Subject:
England
Subject:
Autism
Subject:
Savants
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
fiction;autism;mystery;novel;england;british;family;young adult;aspergers;contemporary fiction;contemporary;psychology;literature;dogs;divorce;humor;mental illness;ya;coming of age;mathematics;murder;crime;21st century;detective;dog;children;childhood;lon
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
2422
Publication Date:
20040518
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
8.6 x 5.2 x .6 in .55 lb

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Related Subjects


Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (03 Edition) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.00 In Stock
Product details 240 pages Random House of Canada, Ltd - English 9780385659802 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

An autistic math genius sets out to solve the murder-by-pitchfork of a neighbor's dog. The narrator's autism gives a terrific, interesting depth to his voice. Incredibly well done, Mark Haddon's debut novel is sweet, original, and moving.

"Synopsis" by , Narrated by a fifteen-year-old autistic savant obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, this dazzling novel weaves together an old-fashioned mystery, a contemporary coming-of-age story, and a fascinating excursion into a mind incapable of processing emotions.

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. At fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbour’s dog Wellington impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing.

Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer, and turns to his favourite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As Christopher tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, the narrative draws readers into the workings of Christopher’s mind.

And herein lies the key to the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotions. The effect is dazzling, making for one of the freshest debut in years: a comedy, a tearjerker, a mystery story, a novel of exceptional literary merit that is great fun to read.

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