5 · The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Francis Spufford’s The Child that Books Built: A Memoir of Childhood and Reading was a close contender for this top ten. A thoughtful reflection on various classics of children’s literature and how they affected Spufford’s development and adult outlook, it was enjoyable not only for the influences we had in common—Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin and science fiction in general—but for those we didn’t, like C.S. Lewis and The Little House on the Prairie. Reading it took me back to Huonville library and the thrill of exploring the books on its shelves, and to all those hours spent inculcating the reading habits of a lifetime.

Kids are spoilt for choice for good books at the moment, and it’s been fun to bob for the apples at the top of the barrel of popular awareness. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time made a lot of top tens in the newspapers last year, so when it came out in paperback I read it pretty much straight away. Its Asperger’s Syndrome narrator has one of the most striking voices of recent fiction—a more prickly and analytical Adrian Mole—and the book’s central mystery unfolds in the best detective story tradition. Like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, it’s a book that can be enjoyed by adults without having to make any allowances for its genre, provided you don’t give a toss about people looking down at you for reading children’s books—or for following the herd and reading the fashionable children’s books that have been noticed by the newspapers. How else are you supposed to hear about them? The Huonville library is a long way away.

Another recent novel built around a mysteriously dead dog is Adam Ford’s Man Bites Dog, a tale of Australian twenty-somethings slouching around Melbourne’s inner city doing not much. Having spent six months hanging out in the same places—right down to the Moroccan restaurant he mentions in passing—it was all very familiar; and having written my own tale of Australian twenty-somethings, it felt more familiar yet. Ford even alludes to a familiar online community, which was where I saw him mention this book, and why I picked it up in the first place. Mucking around on the web might not get you out of the slush pile, but it can get you a few extra sales, at least. An enjoyable quick read.

As was Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, the first of a series of comic novels about Thursday Next, literary agent in a parallel world where that means “secret agent” and fictional characters have lives of their own. I might have got more out of it if I’d been a bit more diligent about reading the classics in my childhood, and not just Tolkien and Le Guin, but even for someone who’s never made Jane Eyre’s acquaintance it was an entertaining romp. Could’ve done more with the pet dodo, though... maybe the three sequels do.