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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Asperger Syndrome Does Not Belong To Mark Haddon

I have been hearing from critics, editors, and pr people in London, many of whom are astonished that Sumia Sukkar's brilliant, riveting, timely, and very moving novel about a Syrian family who become refugees, has failed to receive more media attention here in the UK - only The Times got the value of the book (and gave it a terrific review). One of the reasons, it seems, is that some people feel that having a character in the novel who has Asperger Syndrome somehow renders it cliche, or overly familiar.  Indeed, someone close to Mark Haddon, author of the best-selling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (now a smash hit play in the West End), said he declines to endorse any new fiction involving persons with Asperger Syndrome.

Now, let us step back and be clear.  Asperger Syndrome is not a gimmick merely useful for a plot point, or a good novel.  It is a very real condition, that affects millions of families around the world. The fact that Sumia's novel has a character with this condition in no way invalidates the far wider context of the novel - an exploration of family life and love in a Muslim culture, facing threat of war.  To suggest it does would be to suggest that representations of "disability" somehow should be rationed.  I have heard some reviewers sigh - not another Asperger's book.  Really?  What about "another" woman's book, or black book, or blind book, or gay book, or cancer book?  Writing about Asperger's is not like writing about teen vampires or kinky sex.  It isn't a lifestyle choice or a myth. Human experience is multiple, varied, and complex.  Mark Haddon did not use creative brilliance to invent the character of his boy hero - he drew on well-known facts, on a real condition.  Haddon does not own Asperger's.

No writer holds the moral copyright on any human condition - be that love, death, suffering, illness, poverty - the list is endless.  It is sad, tedious, and unimaginative to have pigeonholed the Sukkar novel - a great novel that transcends and transforms and deepens the Asperger's Genre (as it is becoming called by some critics) - as merely a Haddon rip-off.  Indeed, the Incident in Haddon is very limited in scope, to two families, and one dog.  In Sukkar, the incident, sadly real, relates to millions of displaced persons.  As one reviewer online put it, to compare Haddon's hero to Sukkar's is like saying that Holden Caulfield is the same as Anne Frank, simply because they were both adolescents.
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