Another fine Picoult

2010-08-25 00:00

A TEENAGE boy with Asperger’s syndrome, a brother who feels constantly neglected, their single mother whose capacity to care for them is stretched to the limit, and the battered body of a young woman, are some of the elements of House Rules, a book which unfolds as easily as a paper napkin for those familiar with Picoult’s work.

Did Jacob Hunt, Emma’s eldest son who has Asperger’s and is obsessed with crime scene investigations, kill his tutor Jess? Emma has spent years trying to help her son be more like other children, but when he is accused of murder, she wants him to be declared unfit to stand trial, because of his condition.

Jacob’s behaviour is indeed different. For him, each day of the week must be colour coded meaning that all meals must be of food that is the same hue, a culinary challenge for Emma. Jacob’s overriding passion is his favourite­ crime scene investigator programme on TV, and nothing else is more important to him than stopping what he’s doing and watching it. He is super-literal, he lacks conventional social skills, is undemonstrative, but is not stupid.

As Emma experiences a crisis of faith in her son’s innocence, she stumbles across a younger and inexperienced attorney Oliver who takes Jacob’s case when he is arrested on suspicion of the murder of his tutor. The scene is thus set for some mild romantic tension between Emma and Oliver amid the onerous task of trying to get Jacob through the ordeal of his trial.

I really don’t know if Picoult’s representation of Asperger’s is accurate, but Jacob’s behaviour was interesting to read about and reminiscent of the Asperger’s portrayal in Mark Haddon’s brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

There was for me a fatal flaw in the whodunnit plot of House Rules, which smacked me between the eyes, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book.

Die-hard Picoult fans will have their craving for her winning recipe (one chapter Jacob, one chapter brother Theo, one chapter Emma, one chapter novice attorney, one chapter hardened all-American cop, etc) sated.

Picoult delivers what’s expected and it was a fine read.

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