Were they offended by what they read or what they felt?

All of the critics seem to touch on the topic of Haddon’s responsibility as an author depending on the intended audience. Both Bartmess and Olear are assuming the majority of the readership will be neurotypical readers and worry how someone unfamiliar with Asperger’s will react to the book.

Bartmess doesn’t think that a neurotypical audience can read Haddon’s protagonist the same as they read a neurotypical one (though Miller suggests Chris reads like an “imperfect narrator”, like any neurotypical one). According to Bartmess, Chris is alarmingly without empathy, and an elitist that would rather that people unlike him would just die (while Miller thinks Chris shows immense sympathy and is only guilty of thinking his views are the best, like everyone tends to do). Bartmess takes issue with Haddon’s book having become an introductory text that informs neurotypical people about Asperger’s. This means that Chris’s problematic qualities, of both inflicting violence on others and being oblivious to abuse directed at him, is normalized among a neurotypical audience from the start.

I think Olear implicitly had a similar problem with the book as Bartmess, specifically with Chris’ unlikable character. I don’t think either Bartmess or Olear is comfortable with the idea that Chris’ personality is so trying on the neurotypical people in his life, to the point that the abuse towards him becomes ordinary. In the case of Olear, I think the unaddressed abuse upsets him as his son’s neurotypical caretaker. Haddon’s book shows the after effects of a marriage that fell apart from the stress of raising their son with Asperger’s. As Bartmess pointed out, the book seems to expect Chris’ violent outbursts, and excuse the abuse towards him (almost as if he deserves it) whenever it fails to openly condemning it.

Bartmess received a lot of backlash for her criticism from other people also with Asperger’s. They claim she made the mistake of assuming, not Haddon, because some readers with Asperger’s actually do relate to Chris. It’s obviously impossible to say all “aspies” have exactly the same symptoms. Being a pervasive disorder that effects personality, it’s also impossible to assume they would all share exactly the same personality. It’s Chris’ personality that Bartmess takes so much issue with. It seems strange that Bartmess can’t acknowledge experiences of Asperger’s that differ from her own (a few people suggested comorbidity to explain some symptoms). Similarly, Olear insists that if Chris does have Asperger’s, it must be some extreme form because most aspies are on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.

Both Bartmess and Olear have an aversion to Chris’ portrayal and claim it’s because they worry how neurotypical people will respond to it. I think it’s possible though that their criticism is a way to justify their personal dislike of Chris’ personality. By placing the fault in how Haddon wrote him, they don’t have to acknowledge how they’re basically rejecting a neurodivergence unfamiliar to them.

8 Responses to “Were they offended by what they read or what they felt?”

  1.   ikhan113 Says:

    It is understandable that autism can be a personal topic for people who know or have a family member who is autistic. In case of Olear, he has a son who is diagnosed with autism. It may be that Olear doesn’t like Chistopher’s character, or it may be because he is afraid that this kind of representation would only perpetuate stereotype about autistic individual that are already so prevalent in the popular culture. Due to the novel’s widespread success, this question, that whether Christopher is an accurate representation of autistic individual is a valid one becomes significant. If the book is presented to the public as a novel about autistic teenagers then I think it is fair to analyze Christopher’s character and what his image would do to the public psyche.

  2.   Kelly Santana Says:

    I totally agree with your post!
    I also think that Olear & Bartmess have an idea of what Asperger’s is based on what they’ve personally experienced. But it’s important to note that this disorder files under Autism Spectrum Disorder. That means there’s a scale in which people are measured, and they can be in different areas on that scale. Some people with Asperger’s can be high functioning, but who can say that all others are the same? Obviously, that simply isn’t true. Christopher can be an example of someone who’s placed on the low functioning side of the scale of ASD.
    Also, these reviewers are worried that many will feed into the stereotype that they believe Haddon perpetuates, but personally speaking, this hasn’t changed my views of ASD at all. I know enough about it to know that not everyone with ASD is the same way as Christopher’s character. It just reminds me that everyone suffering from ASD is different. Great post!

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