Lost in Their Minds: T.S. Spivet, Christopher Boone, and the Interaction of Narrator and Reality

Fictional characters can be just as annoying as regular people, and because a lot of fiction is constructed in such a way that the reader is stuck in the head of the narrator or protagonist these characters can almost be more aggravating than people in the real world. Authors must balance the creation of an entire fictional mind with the minds of their readers because if the gap between the reader’s knowledge and the characters is too large reading can become ponderous and unpleasant. Characters with eccentric interests or mind altering conditions make achieving this balance even more difficult as the reader is less likely to have an understanding of reality that lines up with the mind of narrator. In novels, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Mark Haddon and Reif Larsen respectively construct texts that draw the reader into the far-left field that is their narrator’s minds.

The narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime poses a very particular challenge to readers – Christopher lives with autism. He has a deep and abiding love of routine, the neighbour’s dog, math and prime numbers in particular. Most readers are likely not as reliant on routines nor are they likely to be fascinated by the intricacies of pure math principles but Haddon manages to make reading about them far from frustrating. He captures the earnestness of Christopher’s enjoyment of all these things in a way that is compelling to the reader even if the reader wouldn’t normally be interested in any of the areas that Christopher fixates on. The reader isn’t expected to come in with an outlook that lines up with Christopher’s, rather they become caught up in his mind because the author does not try and rationalize those interests to the perspective of a neurotypical person. Routine, the neighbour’s dog, and prime numbers are integral to the book because they are integral to Christopher who the reader inhabits.

T.S. has a very different experience with others than Christopher does. While Christopher is incapable of understanding the way, others operate because of his disability, T.S. knows that most people do not think the way he does and do not have same values. At times T.S. tries to justify his goals or couch his interests in such a way that they are more appealing for those around him which serves to better connect the reader to his love of maps. This is further supported by Larsen’s inclusion of relevant maps in the margins of the text, T.S. understands his world through mapping them and rather than just expecting the reader to accept that Larsen presents the maps in real time so that the reader can have the visceral experience of how their narrator’s mind works. Just as T.S. relies on his maps to process the world the reader begins to rely on the maps to process the mind of T.S.

Despite their opposing strategies, both Haddon and Larsen ultimately fall back on the strength of writing that is internally consistent. The earnestness of Christopher or the awareness of T.S. only work because at no point in their respective novels do those characteristics break. The reader is sucked into the worlds of these two characters because the incredibly even construction of the point of view characters doesn’t offer any alternate ways to view the events of the story. There are no gaps that remind the reader of the potentially absurd conclusions or values of the point of view character. Instead the reader is swept up in the perspective of the protagonist even though those characters are fixated on subjects the reader would normally find far from fascinating.

The creation of narrators that are eccentric but still accessible or enjoyable to a general readership can be done through any number of methods so long as the writing is consistent. Reading a narrator that is inconsistent is frustrating and draw attention to the unrelatable parts of their experience while characters whose perspective is even throughout the text helps draw the reader into the perspective of that character. Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Larsen’s The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet are built around point of view characters that could easily become very alienating for the reader but instead these authors construct and characters that are earnest or aware in a consistent way that draws the reader into their minds. There is a joy of being lost in the worlds of a character and both Mark Haddon and Reif Larsen succeed in creating that experience.