Thursday, October 16, 2008

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Ted loves the London Eye, a large observation wheel composed of glass and steel capsules that allow you to see for 25 miles in any direction on a clear day. It is his absolute favorite thing to do in London where he lives with his parents and his older sister Kat. So when his Aunt and cousin come to visit, he is pleased that Salim wishes to go for a ride. Once there, a man rushes up to them and offers them a ride ticket that he no longer wishes to use. What to do? It would save loads of time, the queue is long, and the wait even longer. They decide Salim will take the ticket and ride the London Eye by himself. They watch him get on board, but 30 minutes later when his capsule lands, Salim doesn’t disembark. Where did he go? How does someone disappear from a sealed glass pod? The mystery begins.

Ted’s brain, as he so often reminds us, runs on a different operating system. In short, he has Aspergers Syndrome. As such, he doesn’t recognize emotions, can’t decipher social complexities, thinks extremely literally, doesn’t like to be touched, and has a specialized area of interest - the weather. Ted narrates the story and I found his voice to be very convincing. He laughs when others laugh even when he doesn’t understand what is funny so that he can fit in, he smiles when others smile so that they will like him and be his friend. He is a boy who recognizes his social limitations and wants to overcome them even if he can’t decode what the proper reaction would be. It is an often lonely and alienated life, which is buffered by a loving, if often exasperated family. Dowd’s writing really encapsulates what one imagines life with Aspergers would be like.

I suppose it is inevitable that Ted should be compared to Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The two books did strike me as similar in tone and both play the disconnect between they view the world and the way those without the syndrome for laughs. Both feature a mystery that the protagonist doggedly solves. The London Eye Mystery is much lighter as one could expect for a book aimed at younger readers. There is much that is different, their family situations, their level of symptoms, etc. (as in it has been too long since I read Curious and can’t remember what else is different).

The mystery itself is solid. Ted offers a range of possible, although not always very plausible reasons for Salim’s disappearance. One by one, along with his sister Kat, the theories are either supported or discarded. It interested me that Dowd didn’t shy away from more serious topics, even though she didn’t often delve into them. For instance, when Ted doesn’t understand why someone would want to kidnap Salim because Aunt Gloria is not rich (in his mind people are kidnapped for ransom alone), Kat mentions that another reason would be for sex. This is mentioned, the seriousness noted, but not dwelled upon (thankfully Salim has not been kidnapped at all let alone for sex). I thought this was very masterfully handled. Dowd recognized the ugly underbelly of humanity, but didn’t let it bog down her rather lighthearted mystery. As such, it turned out that the mystery was more realistic and less of a crazy romp than I expected it to be when I picked up the book.

This book strikes me as something that would work on a variety of levels for readers of different ages. The older the reader, the more they will understand and appreciate the humor in the story. A worthwhile read. And one that convinced me if I ever make it to London, I will absolutely have to take a ride on the London Eye.

1 comment:

Red Eyes said...

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R.E.