I had heard good things about this book for a long time and it’s been on my TBR list for a couple years. But then this year, I learned that it was coming to my city in play form so I really wanted to read it before I saw the play. This turned out harder than anticipated because it’s a very popular book, which meant a long wait on the library request list. I finally got it earlier this month but with school and work I didn’t have time to finish it.
I ended up speed-reading it on the drive to the theatre and finished it during intermission!
So, since I’ve now experienced two versions of the story, I wanted to give a review/comparison of both. First the book:
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.
Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.
I immediately thought Christopher had Asperger’s because I’d read a book a couple years ago, Wild Orchid, where the main character tells us she has Asperger’s and narrates her story much in the same way that Christopher does. So I wasn’t surprised to find that others have jumped to this conclusion as well, though I did find in my research on this book that the author never specifically said what Christopher is suffering from and wishes to leave it open.
Now that I’ve read it, I can see why it’s held in such high regard. It’s very well-written and a unique take on a mystery, as well as a portrayal of those on the autistic spectrum that allows us to better understand how they navigate their daily lives. I also enjoyed the humour in this book, and all the added emphasis that helped with reading it in Christopher’s voice, like the occasional bolded and italicized words.
That said, I personally found it to be an okay book. I found it interesting following Christopher’s thoughts but it didn’t grip me as much as I expected from the acclaim the book has received. I actually preferred Wild Orchid (though I read that back in grade 7 so maybe my opinion would have changed by now) and it never really reached the same level for me. I’d give it 3 1/2 stars.
And now for the play: Directed by Heidi Malazdrewich, this play has been touring through Edmonton and Winnipeg. I wasn’t sure how they would handle the translation from page to stage since the book is narrated in 1st-person but it was really simply done. Siobhan, Christopher’s TA, is the narrator in the play, acting as though she is reading the book Christopher has written. The fourth wall is broken quite a bit, but it kind of makes up for the lost connection between Christopher and his readers, and brings in even more humour to the story.
I think the most powerful aspect of the play was its simplicity, especially in set design. Various props and transitions between scenes are actually acted out by the actors (one person acts as a coat rack!). The simplicity, while fun and a chance to engage all the actors in each scene, really serves to give the story our full attention. Sometimes a spinning stage and big moving parts add to the play but here they weren’t needed.
Each person involved was able to tell the story as it should be told, sometimes with their words but more often with their bodies.
My favourite part was Christopher’s “dream come true” sequence (pictured to the right), where he imagines being an astronaut. With a ladder, some lights, and the other actors dancing around the stage, it created a really powerful moment on stage.
The story came through a lot more strongly in the play than it did for me in the book. Plus, the play had a live puppy and you can’t go wrong there! The play gets 4 stars from me.
If you do happen to be in Winnipeg, you have until November 12th to see the show at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre! I highly recommend it, especially if you liked the book. I think you’ll find you get even more out of the play.