novel, published by Sceptre 2003
Dawson’s Wild Boy is set in 19th-century France, when Paris was buzzing with stories about the”savage” of Aveyron. Dawson fictionalises this story with three voices: the doctor Itard, the governessMadame Guerin, and the Wild Boy himself, Victor. Dr Itard staked his career on proving that he couldtame Victor and teach him to speak. But, according to Dawson, Itard’s efforts were doomed because he failed to realise that Victor suffered from severe autism.
She brings to her novel, we are told, years of personal experience of raising a son with Asperger’s syndrome. Her book reveals how autism explains Victor’s survival in the wild: lacking a sense of danger, he feels neither pain nor extremes of temperature. While Dr Itard intellectualises the situation (is Dawson suggesting that the doctor might be a high-functioning Asperger?), it is through Guerin that the author illustrates how mothers’ roles in caring for atypical children are vastly underestimated.
‘Dawson creates a character who displays the most challenging aspects of the autistic condition, not redeemed by any extraordinary talents. Yet she convincingly shows how he is still lovable, individual and fully human.’
– The Times Higher Educational Supplement
‘Wild Boy is an accomplished novel, rich with ideas and vivid characters, which is, above all, a lucid and moving exploration of the nature of autism.’
– The Observer
‘The inner life that she creates for Victor is, when coupled with the difficulties in expression experienced by both of his carers, one of the novel’s most moving and convincing aspects, persuading us that, rather than filleting documentary evidence to support her case, she has actually engaged with it in a productive and thoughtful manner.’
– The Times
‘Dawson takes what is already a compelling tale and successfully fleshes it out into a convincing and highly moving book.’
– The Guardian
‘Jill Dawson poses an enquiry that has a powerful resonance in contemporary debates around the mysteries of the autistic condition.’
– Image Magazine
‘Jill Dawson’s Wild Boy is prefaced by this observation by Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, the physician who attempted to educate Victor, the “Wild Boy of Aveyron”. Dawson’s choice is ironic. She devotes this intriguing fictionalised account of Victor’s life to proving Itard wrong.’
– Daily Telegraph
‘Jill Dawson delivers a compelling historical novel of uncommon intimacy. Victor, as he was named, is today considered the first documented case of autism, and Dawson herself has a son who suffers from a form of this condition. The author’s first-hand familiarity with the disorder would account for the deep feeling invested in the book.’