I beg forgiveness for any hurt or offence this question may cause, but – has Asperger’s syndrome become fashionable?
Cards firmly on the table: Asperger’s is not a subject of which I can claim any knowledge whatsoever. In fact, I’m probably the last person who should choose the topic for a blog post; at least one other person on the team is eminently more qualified than I, and indeed, has posted on the subject several times in the recent past, including, quite movingly, yesterday. So apologies in advance to Jeff, and especially to Josh, though he and I have never crossed paths.
My only experience of Asperger’s (other than on the printed page – see below) was a few years ago, and did not reflect well on me. I was running twenty-minute one-to-one feedback sessions at a writers’ weekend, and one of my clients, for want of a better word, was a young woman who had informed me, in writing well in advance, that she had it, so I should have been better prepared. In the event I had no idea what to expect, so, faced with someone who looked me straight in the eye for the entire twenty minutes but made no response at all to the dubious wisdom I attempted to impart about her work (which, according to the notes I made at the time, was rather good; certainly well-written, though a couple of thousand words of a novel doesn’t give a reader much more to go on), I was completely disconcerted. I’m ashamed to say I babbled aimlessly, feeling as if I’d fallen into deep water and couldn’t swim. (Which in fact I can’t, not that it’s relevant.) Small wonder the poor girl avoided me for the rest of the weekend; I’d have avoided me if I could. The truth was, and probably still is, I didn’t know what to expect, or what to do. Which is not at all to my credit. And I still remember it with a cold shudder at my own lack of sensitivity.
And now, people with Asperger’s keep appearing in the books I’m reading. I’d like to say it’s giving me more insight, and maybe a few tips on what to expect if I encounter someone in real life, but since as far as I know the authors of said books aren’t necessarily writing from personal experience, I’m not even sure about that.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has gone into history. I’ve just finished Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker, in which a young man with Asperger’s takes elaborate steps to find out why his father died, and finishes up discovering another suspicious death. It turns out that a book I’ll shortly be reading for review has a protagonist with Asperger’s. And one of my favourite developing series features a young detective constable in recovery from Cotard’s syndrome, which, at the stage she’s at, seems to manifest itself in some similar ways.
Which is why I ask, is it becoming fashionable?
I understand entirely why Jeff/E J created Samuel Hoenig. At least, I think I do. One, Samuel is a little different from the general run of mystery novel protagonists, and I’ve never met a writer who isn’t looking for a new take. Two, he had a great story to tell about someone with Asperger’s, though I haven’t had the privilege of reading the books yet, so that’s an assumption based on his other books. Three, writers are advised to draw on their own observation, and he’s had the opportunity to observe first-hand. Four, and this is a big maybe, maybe he felt there were myths to explode, illusions to correct. Forgive me if I’m wrong on any count, Jeff. Like Manuel in Fawlty Towers, I know nozzing.
But why do other writers do it? The first reason, possibly. After that, who knows? I just hope the success of novels like Curious Incident and Rubbernecker, both of which won major awards, isn’t about to result in bandwagon-jumping the way other successful books like The da Vinci Code and Gone Girl did. That would be sad. Among other things.