Saturday, July 03, 2004

On not being able to deal with strangers

I've just read a novel in two days, which is notable in three respects: it was a novel, I read the whole thing, and it only took two days.

I struggle with novels; they cut too close to the bone. I feel them too deeply, so I shy away from them. I'm much happier reading New Scientist, or history, or the Economist - not too different, in many ways, from Christopher John Francis Boone.

Christopher John Francis Boone is the narrator of "The curious incident of the dog in the night-time" by Mark Haddon. He's an autistic boy who's brilliant at mathematics and who cannot bear to be with strangers. He's fascinated by science, he dislikes the colors yellow and brown, he knows every prime number up to 7,057, he screams if people touch him, and he feels most comfortable wedged into small spaces.

I'm not autistic. However, I do have a Y chromosome. I prefer my own company to crowds. Just this week-end, a friend of S. has come up from LA visit her. S. clearly enjoys being with her. I can be sociable and chat happily along. But when I had the opportunity to go along on an expedition to Port with them, I opted to stay at home on my own.

Autistic people - boys, mostly; that Y chromosome again, or perhaps the single X - struggle to cope with sensory overload, particularly social overload. I don't experience this remotely as severely as Christopher Boone, and I'm not remotely as good at maths as he is. Still, I felt a kinship. We probably all feel like he does some of the time; if we didn't, Haddon's novel couldn't've been written, and wouldn't've been published.

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