Haddon, Mark 1962–
Haddon, Mark 1962–
Born 1962, in Northampton, England; married Sos Eltis (an educator); children: Alfie, Zack. Education: Merton College, Oxford, B.A., 1981; Edinburgh University, M.A., 1984. Hobbies and other interests: Marathon canoeing, abstract painting.
Author. During early career, assisted patients with multiple sclerosis and autism, and worked a variety of part-time jobs, including at a theater box office and in a mail-order business; worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for periodicals, including cartoon strip "Men—A User's Guide"; creator of and writer for several children's television series, including Microsoap.
Smarties Prize shortlist, 1994, for The Real Porky Philips; Royal Television Society Award for Best Children's Drama, 1998, two British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards, 1999, and Prix Jeunesse, 2000, all for Microsoap; BAFTA Special Screenwriter's Award for contribution to children's television, 1999; Book Trust Teenage Prize, Whitbread Prize, Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, Commonwealth Writers Prize for best first book, and Children's Fiction Prize from the Guardian, all 2003, and the McKitterick Prize, Society of Authors Literary Awards, 2004, for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
(And illustrator) Gilbert's Gobstopper, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1987, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1988.
(And illustrator) Toni and the Tomato Soup, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1988.
A Narrow Escape for Princess Sharon, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1989.
Gridzbi Spudvetch!, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.
Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion, illustrated by Martin Brown, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.
(And illustrator) The Real Porky Philips, A & C Black (London, England), 1994.
Baby Dinosaurs at Home, Western Publishing (New York, NY), 1994.
Baby Dinosaurs at Playgroup, Western Publishing (New York, NY), 1994.
Baby Dinosaurs in the Garden, Western Publishing (New York, NY), 1994.
Baby Dinosaurs on Vacation, Western Publishing (New York, NY), 1994.
The Sea of Tranquility, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1996.
(And illustrator) Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, Red Fox (London, England), 1996.
(And illustrator) Agent Z Meets the Masked Crusader, Red Fox (London, England), 1996.
(And illustrator) Agent Z Goes Wild, Red Fox (London, England), 1999.
Secret Agent Handbook, illustrated by Sue Heap, Walker Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(And illustrator) Agent Z and the Killer Bananas, Red Fox (London, England), 2001.
The Ice Bear's Cave, illustrated by David Axtell, Picture Lions (London, England), 2002.
Ocean Star Express, illustrated by Peter Sutton, Picture Lions (London, England), 2002.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
A Spot of Bother, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2006.
The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village under the Sea (poetry), Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of episodes for children's television series, including Microsoap and Starstreet; contributor to screenplay adaptation of Fungus the Bogeyman, by Raymond Briggs. Contributor of illustrations and cartoons to periodicals, including New Statesman, Spectator, Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, and Private Eye. Author's works have been translated into German, French, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, Danish, Japanese, Portugese, Hebrew, Thai, Polish, Romanian, Icelandic, Russian, Chinese, and Turkish.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been adapted as an audiobook by Recorded Books, 2003, and is also scheduled to be adapted as a film written and directed by Steve Kloves and coproduced by Brad Pitt.
British author Mark Haddon was enjoying a successful career writing and illustrating children's books, as well as writing for popular children's television shows such as Microsoap and Starstreet, before he surprised even himself with his wildly acclaimed first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A quirky mystery novel about a teenager who investigates the murder of his neighbor's dog, the story gained the most attention for its narrative technique—Haddon uses the viewpoint of an autistic boy named Christopher. Originally, as the author told Dave Weich in a Powell's interview, the idea of the story came from an image in his mind of a poodle that had been killed by a gardening implement. Haddon, who admittedly has a rather dark sense of humor at times, thought beginning a novel this way could be funny, but in order to make it work he would have to tell the incident from a unique viewpoint. "The dog came first," Haddon told Weich, "then the voice. Only after a few pages did I really start to ask, Who does the voice belong to? So Christopher came along, in fact, after the book had already got underway." It was a fortuitous decision that would lead Haddon to win a Whitbread Prize, among other honors.
Even though the character of Christopher Boone, who suffers from a disorder known as Asperger's syndrome, is fifteen years old, Haddon originally intended the book to be for an adult audience. After having written over a dozen books for children over the years, he wanted to write about more complex themes. The resulting novel "was definitely for adults," he told Weich, "but maybe I should say more specifically: It was for myself. I've been writing for kids for a long time, and if you're writing for kids you're kind of writing for the kid you used to be at that age…. I felt a great sense of freedom with this book because I felt like I was writing it for me." In presenting the final manuscript to his agent, however, it was decided that it would be marketed to both an adult and a teenage audience.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time can be seen, in some ways, as an extension of Haddon's previous books for children, some of which contain a good dose of mystery and humor. For example, his debut children's book, Gilbert's Gobstopper, is meant to be humorous and, in its own way, have a touch of adventure. When Gilbert loses his jawbreaker, the reader is treated to a trip from the gobstopper's viewpoint as it travels through sewer pipes, enters the ocean, is found by a fisherman, and goes on ever-more surprising turns that include a trip into outer space. "This irreverent entertainment will tickle many a funnybone," asserted Carolyn Polese in a School Library Journal review.
Haddon also combines adventure and humor in his "Agent Z" series for children that includes Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, Agent Z and the Masked Crusader, Agent Z Goes Wild, and Agent Z and the Killer Bananas. The Agent Z of the title actually refers to a group of three boys, Jenks, Ben, and Barney, who assume the secret identity as part of their club. The boys get involved in one goofy adventure after another, such as the time they take advantage of Mr. Sidebottom's obsession with UFOs by concocting an alien plot using a penguin and some foil, or the time the boys make a mock movie about killer bananas. Reviewers generally had high praise for these books. School Librarian contributor Alicen Geddes-Ward called Agent Z Meets the Masked Crusader a "witty, tight and brilliantly funny book." Adrian Jackson, writing in Books for Keeps, similarly felt that Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars was "a real hoot of a story, wildly imagined."
But Haddon does not view children merely as material for humorous stories. Some of his children's books show a decidedly more sensitive side to youngsters, such as The Real Porky Philips and Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion. A story that Books for Keeps critic Gill Roberts called "powerful, poignant and pertinent," The Real Porky Philips is about a young, sensitive, overweight boy who finally finds the courage to assert his real personality after he has to play the role of a genie in a school play. Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion has a similar theme about self-confidence. Here, Titch, who seems not to be good at anything except balancing forks on his nose, gains a better appreciation of himself after successfully organizing a fundraising event.
The rich world of dreams and imagination is explored in The Sea of Tranquility and Ocean Star Express. In the former, Haddon draws on his own childhood fascination with the achievement of humankind's first landing on the moon in 1969. The boy in the tale has a picture of the solar system on his wall and fantasizes about what it would be like to be an astronaut. Combined with this storyline are facts about the actual landing and interesting tidbits; for example, that the footprints left there will remain for millions of years because of the lack of wind and rain on the Moon. Carolyn Boyd, writing in the School Librarian, felt that "this book will appeal to those who remember the first moon landing and to young readers who will marvel at it." Ocean Star Express, by comparison, is not as grounded in reality. Here, a boy named Joe is becoming bored during his summer holiday when Mr. Robertson, the owner of the hotel where his family is staying, invites him to see his train set. No ordinary toy, apparently, the train takes Joe and the owner on a magical ride around the world in what a Kirkus Reviews contributor called a "sweet and simple story that young train enthusiasts will enjoy."
While Haddon received a good deal of praise for many of his children's books, including being shortlisted for the Smarties Prize for The Real Porky Philips, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time brought him considerably more critical attention. It combines the humor, sensitivity, and adventure of his earlier books with a highly challenging narrative perspective that impressed many reviewers. The protagonist of the story, Christopher Boone, has Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism that prevents him from being able to accurately perceive and interpret other people's emotions. While he possesses an extremely logical mind, he is dispassionate and unable to empathize with other people whose feelings he cannot comprehend. This makes Christopher both a very reliable narrator, because he is incapable of lying, and an unreliable one, because he cannot fully appreciate the motives behind other people's actions. Making the character even more complicated, Haddon gives Christopher other idiosyncrasies, including an aversion to being touched, a hatred of the colors brown and yellow, and a sometimes uncontrollable bladder. On the other hand, Christopher is brilliant at math, loves puzzles, and has a photographic memory.
The novel is ostensibly being written by Christopher, whose school counselor has assigned him the task of writing a book as a type of therapy. Haddon becomes his character fully in the story, even numbering the chapters in prime number order rather than sequentially because of Christopher's fascination with prime numbers. The story begins when Christopher discovers the dead poodle, Wellington. A great lover of dogs, as well as a fan of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, he decides to find out who killed Wellington and why. The chapters then alternate between Christopher's progress in the investigation and chapters that include mathematical puzzles, charts, and other calculations the fifteen-year-old uses to try to reason out the information he has gathered. But as his investigation advances, the death of the poodle proves to be a knot that, when untied, reveals much more painful truths involving something terrible that happened between Christopher's parents and their neighbors and what really happened to his supposedly dead mother.
Critics appreciated the use of Christopher's dispassionate voice because it forces the author to obey the old writing caveat that authors should always "show and not tell" what is happening in the story. Furthermore, what interested many reviewers is that even though Christopher has autism, Haddon in no way makes this the theme of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Indeed, the word "autism" is never even used. Instead, the novel might best be viewed as an examination of "the process of writing itself," as Daniel J. Glendening put it in America's Intelligence Wire. The story's point of view allows considerable latitude for reader interpretation. Haddon remarked to Weich that people he has talked to have had amazingly disparate reactions to his novel. "People have said to me that it's a desperately sad book and they wept most of the way through it," the author said. "Other people say it's charming and they kept laughing all the time. People say it has a sad ending; people say it has a happy ending. Because Christopher doesn't force the reader to think one thing and another, I get many different reactions."
Although Haddon has had some personal experience in the past working with autistic people, he has admitted doing very little formal research when creating the character of Christopher. While many critics had no problem accepting the author's portrayal of the boy's condition, one reviewer, Nicholas Barrow of the Spectator, found it highly flawed. Barrow considered Haddon's descriptions to be a "total exaggeration of a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger's," objecting to the "cliché" of an autistic boy who is a math genius, noting that Christopher is unbelievable as a teenager because he never thinks even once about sex, and finding the boy's problem with incontinence inconsistent with Asperger's patients. In the end, Barrow found the portrayal of Christopher to be "patronising, inaccurate and not entertaining," and also found that "some people with Asperger's would be offended by this book." However, if one considers that Haddon's motive is not to discuss the issue of mental or emotional disabilities but rather to experiment with literary perspective and create an interesting story, then one would fall into the more predominant camp that found Haddon's narrator absorbing. As one Publishers Weekly critic put it: "The novel brims with touching, ironic humor. The result is an eye-opening work in a unique and compelling literary voice." "In Christopher, Haddon has tapped into a unique, yet memorable voice that lingers well after the last page," Jennifer Fish wrote in the Florida Times Union. London Independent reviewer Nicholas Tucker concluded: "How Haddon achieves this most delicate of balances is a tribute to his skill as a successful cartoonist as well as novelist." Glendening called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time "modern writing at its finest."
Haddon tackled another literary challenge with his next project, the novel A Spot of Bother—that of a story told from multiple perspectives. The "spot" of the book's title refers to a benign lesion that develops on the hip of sixty-something George, the "bother" signifying a general neurosis that develops into a deep depression as George fixates on the possibility that he has cancer. His life is further complicated by an adulterous wife, a gay son, and a daughter who is getting married for the second time to yet another unlikeable husband. Each family member takes a turn at describing a seemingly average life at its most chaotic. Despite the plot's serious nature, Haddon infuses the story with humor throughout, finding comedy in the most mundane of daily events.
Critics gave mixed reviews of A Spot of Bother, many conceding that Haddon had a difficult task on his hands in recreating the success of his earlier smash hit. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described it as a "laugh-out-loud slice of British domestic life" and "great fun." Writing for the New York Times Book Review, David Kamp remarked: "Haddon trades in a cheerful, quirky, life-goes-on drabness that's particularly English. And totally brilliant." A critic for Kirkus Reviews maintained that while "Haddon is a clever writer with an eye and ear for the absurdities of everyday life," the story "takes too long to arrive at its farcical finale and seems too slight in the process." While Donna Freydkin found the plot "not much of a page-turner per se," she wrote in a review for USA Today that "Haddon finds magic in the details and, as with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, makes the routine minutiae of day-to-day life appealing and often hilarious." Library Journal contributor Donna Bettencourt commented similarly, writing: "Haddon perfectly captures his characters' frailties and strengths while injecting humor with pinpoint accuracy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America's Intelligence Wire, January 19, 2004, Daniel J. Glendening, "Author Mark Haddon Takes a Novel Approach to Autism."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 29, 2003, John Freeman, "Whodunit Unveils Autistic Boy's Mind," p. D2; October 26, 2003, Greg Changnon, "Teen ‘Rain Man’ Confronts Canine and Other Mysteries," p. F3.
Book, January-February, 2003, Adam Langer, "The New Houdini: Mark Haddon," p. 43; July-August, 2003, Beth Kephart, "Little Sherlock," p. 76.
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 1376; January 1, 2004, Mary McCay, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 890.
Bookseller, January 24, 2003, "A Young Detective Obsessed by Detail," p. 29.
Books for Keeps, July, 1993, Adrian Jackson, review of Gridzbi Spudvetch!, p. 28; May, 1994, Steve Rosson, review of The Real Porky Philips, p. 8; July, 1995, Adrian Jackson, review of Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, p. 12; September, 1995, Gill Roberts, review of The Real Porky Philips, p. 12.
Books for Your Children, summer, 1994, S. Williams, review of The Real Porky Philips, p. 13.
British Book News, March, 1988, Judith Elkin, review of Gilbert's Gobstopper, p. 13.
Daily Variety, August 2, 2002, Michael Fleming, "WB Looking ‘Curious’: Pitt, Grey Keen on Haddon Adventure Tale," p. 5.
Economist, May 24, 2003, "Great Expectations; New Fiction," p. 85.
Entertainment Weekly, June 20, 2003, Ken Tucker, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 76.
Florida Times Union, August 31, 2003, Jennifer Fish, "It All Adds Up to Great Debut Novel: Tale's Hero an Autistic Math Genius," p. D4.
Growing Point, July, 1989, review of Toni and the Tomato Soup, p. 5197.
Independent (London, England), June 6, 2003, Nicholas Tucker, "Making Sense of an Abnormal Normality: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," p. 15.
Junior Bookshelf, June, 1993, review of Gridzbi Spudvetch!, p. 105; August, 1993, review of Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion, p. 135.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2003, review of Ocean Star Express, p. 60; April 15, 2003, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 557; July 15, 2006, review of A Spot of Bother, p. 691.
Kliatt, January, 2004, Jacqueline Edwards, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (audiobook), p. 44.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 25, 2003, Marta Salij, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. K1715.
Library Journal, May 1, 2003, David Hellman, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 155; January, 2004, Michael Adams, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 184; September 1, 2006, Donna Bettencourt, review of A Spot of Bother, p. 136.
M2 Best Books, November 14, 2003, "Author Mark Haddon Set for Awards Hatrick"; January 26, 2004, "Haddon's Curious Tale Continues Its Unexpected Success"; January 28, 2004, "Haddon Claims Whitbread Book of the Year Prize."
Magpies, September, 1996, Margaret Philips, review of The Sea of Tranquility, p. 28.
Newsweek, September 8, 2003, David Noonan, "‘Allowed to Be Odd’: The Hero of a Best-selling New Novel Is a 15-Year-Old Boy with Autism—But That Label Never Appears in the Book," p. 50.
New York Times Book Review, June 15, 2003, Jay McInerney, "The Remains of the Dog," p. 5; September 17, 2006, David Kamp, "Curious Incident of the Lesion on the Hip," p. 12L.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1988, Kimberly Olson Fakih and Diane Roback, review of Gilbert's Gobstopper, p. 273; April 25, 1994, reviews of Baby Dinosaurs at Home, Baby Dinosaurs on Vacation, Baby Dinosaurs at Playgroup, and Baby Dinosaurs in the Garden, p. 75; September 16, 1996, review of The Sea of Tranquility, p. 82; July 1, 2002, John F. Baker, "Obsessed by Sherlock Holmes," p. 14; April 7, 2003, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 42; July 17, 2006, review of A Spot of Bother, p. 134.
Reading Teacher, October, 1989, review of Gilbert's Gobstopper, p. 56.
School Librarian, August, 1989, Joyce Banks, review of A Narrow Escape for Princess Sharon, p. 104; August, 1993, Julie Blaisdale, review of Gridzbi Spudvetch!, and Caroline Axon, review of Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion, p. 109; November, 1993, Alicen Geddes-Ward, review of Agent Z Meets the Masked Crusader, p. 155; February, 1997, Carolyn Boyd, review of The Sea of Tranquility, p. 19; August, 2001, review of Agent Z and the Killer Bananas, p. 136; summer, 2002, review of Ocean Star Express, p. 74.
School Library Journal, September, 1988, Carolyn Polese, review of Gilbert's Gobstopper, p. 160; October, 1989, Susan H. Patron, review of Toni and the Tomato Soup, p. 84; September, 1994, Linda Wicher, reviews of Baby Dinosaurs at Home, Baby Dinosaurs at Playgroup, Baby Dinosaurs in the Garden, and Baby Dinosaurs on Vacation, p. 185; September, 1996, John Peters, review of The Sea of Tranquility, p. 178; October, 2003, Jackie Gropman, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p. 207.
Spectator, May 17, 2003, Nicholas Barrow, "It Ain't Necessarily So," p. 65.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), July 6, 2003, Deborah Jerome-Cohen, "From the Shadows, Words," p. 4.
USA Today, September 5, 2006, Donna Freydkin, "A Spot of Bother Will Grow on You," p. 6D.
WWD (Women's Wear Daily), August 7, 2003, Samantha Conti, "A Dog's Tale," p. 4.
Mark Haddon Home Page,http://www.markhaddon.com (August 31, 2007).
MostlyFiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (August 3, 2003), Mary Whipple, review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Powell's,http://www.powells.com/ (February 10, 2004), Dave Weich, "The Curiously Irresistible Literary Debut of Mark Haddon."