Telling tale about Tourette's
A teenager afflicted with a neurological disorder who doesn't let it get in the way.
AFTER reading Mark Haddon’s (2003 Man Booker-longlisted book) The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, I took a liking to novels featuring protagonists with special needs such as autism. So I was quickly onboard with When Mr Dog Bites, which is not only told from the point of view of a special needs teenager but also has a canine in the title.
Brian Conaghan’s teen, Dylan Mint, has Tourette syndrome; it manifests as barks and growls when he’s very stressed, so he aptly dubs his condition Mr Dog. I felt a lot of sympathy as I read Conaghan’s descriptions of Dylan struggling to deal with uncontrollable body and facial tics and episodes of swearing and barking and growling – and most of all, the embarrassment of having it all happen in public, beyond his control.
Can you imagine this? You finally get up the nerve to ask your crush out and what comes out – because you’re as stressed as you’ve ever been – is “Would you like to come to the Halloween disco with me? F****** b****!” It’s so cringe-worthy, you can’t help but feel the urge to hug Dylan.
The author takes a front seat in making this novel a quick read, one that is sparsely witty and loaded with profanity. Then again, the swearing is truly a part of Tourette’s, and Dylan has little to no control over it.
What I found more amusing is Dylan’s naive banter with his best bud, Amir, and his charming inner monologue. Though his habit of using mangled slang and the repetitive phrases “No Way Jose” and “Friar Tuck” does require some patience. Where When Mr Dog Bites offers especially good insight is in describing how people with Tourette’s think, and how the condition is expressed. In Dylan’s case, he lets Mr Dog out.
If you discount his condition, though, Dylan comes across as your typical, uncivilised teen at first (he refers to his crush, Michelle Mallory, as “sex on legs”, something that any 16-year-old male might do!). But one of his regular visits to the doctor changes everything: Dylan thinks he’s going to die.
And so he decides to create a bucket list; or as he charmingly puts it: “Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It”.
I have to say, though, after his first reaction to overhearing that he might die, Dylan comes across as rather unperturbed by his circumstances, which seems unnatural to me, as does his enthusiasm for creating a bucket list.
When Dylan searches online for bucket lists, he’s so disappointed by the ridiculous things people want to accomplish that he decides to make his own list. It isn’t a long list, having just three things on it: No.1 is to have sex with Mallory (he’s an adolescent boy, after all!); No.2 is to find his best friend Amir a new best bud; and No.3 is to get his father back from the war. To me, these three acts are just the sweetest things a 16-year-old could wish for.
Thus begins Dylan’s awkward and amusing journey. While this list guides us through his transition towards adulthood, it’s a letter to his father, who he once adored, that Dylan writes at the end of the book that shows his maturity as well as a newfound respect for women.
It is, in fact, this last bit of the book that helped gel this entire novel together and make Dylan’s story so much more impactful than what came before in the plot.