Jasper Wishart, 13 years old, lives with his dad on an ordinary street. His neighbours are ordinary. However Jasper is anything but ordinary. He sees the world completely different. He can’t recognise faces, even his own. He loves painting and parakeets and is struggling to deal with the death of his mum. His world is both more colourful and frightening than ours. He suffers from synaesthesia, as well as being autistic. When a young woman, Bee Larkham, moves onto the street, she causes a disturbance among the inhabitants. Her appearance sets in motion a chain of events that leads to her death. Jasper has to piece together the information he has – trying to work out if he’s processed it correctly – in an effort to solve the murder of who killed Bee Larkham.
I really wanted to like this novel. First of all it’s a British murder mystery, it involves an interesting central character with a fascinating mental disorder, and it’s a whodunnit. But the truth of the matter is I was left a bit disappointed. I have never given up on a novel I’ve started reading, but the first half of this book was a real slog. I wasn’t enjoying it at all. Whilst the part about synaesthesia and austism were very interesting (I assume they were factually-based) the plot itself felt rather boring. I wasn’t particularly invested in the other characters. I think a lot of this is to do with the way the plot develops – we can only see things through Jasper’s eyes – so the voice of the narrative tended to over-emphasise the colours and moods rather than clues and story points. The secondary characters felt a bit vague and confusing. Which is exactly the way Jasper sees them.
However I’m glad I stuck with the rest of the novel because the second half of the book is much more revealing, and because of that, satisfying. By that point we’re understanding Jasper’s worldview, and are able to jump ahead a bit and make guesses at what really happened. It reminded me of a cross between Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ and LP Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’. Jasper is, due to his synaesthesia and autism, an unreliable narrator, and there is much for the reader to work out. If I’d read just to the halfway point of the novel I’d have felt this was a 1 star book. By finishing it I’d give it 3 stars. There are quite dark themes here, which feel even more acute because of Jasper’s rather innocent view of things. Not a disaster, by any stretch of the imagination, but not one I could really recommend. I did get a decent insight into both synaesthesia and autism, and I also learned that there are parakeets living in Britain, but for me the plot wasn’t particularly engaging.