The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Doubleday, 226 pp., $22.95
Christopher John Francis Boone is an unusual 15-year-old kid. He can recite all the countries of the world and state capitals, and calculate prime numbers to 7057. He also loves Sherlock Holmes mysteries, hates France, and has a photographic memory. Christopher possesses an acute analytical mind that can focus intently on a problem, but he lacks the ability to understand the difference between a smile and a cry. He also dislikes being touched, the colors green and yellow, and screams when upset or angry. Christopher lives in Swindon, England with his father and he always tells the truth.
Christopher is autistic; specifically, he suffers from a condition called Asberger’s Syndrome. The O.A.S.I.S. (Online Asperger’s Syndrome Information and Support) website describes the following conditions: a marked deficiency in social skills, difficulties with transitions or changes, obsessive routines, and overly sensitive to certain sounds, tastes, smells and sights.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time begins with Christopher discovering a neighbor’s murdered dog. Unable to comprehend the woman’s hysterical response, he describes the scene in a detached and scientific voice. The dog’s owner calls the police and accuses Christopher of being the killer. Using Christopher’s condition as a springboard, Haddon allows the reader to enter his mind, and we begin to see the world from this unusual viewpoint. Christopher’s world is carefully structured, defined by mathematical formulas and the laws of logic; his is a solitary internal universe. As the novel progresses, Christopher is determined to solve the mystery of the murdered dog, however this opens up a doorway to a world that neither understands, nor cares about his disability. Christopher is about to undertake a journey that will change him forever, and in order to survive the challenge ahead, he must utilize his innermost strengths and attempt to navigate through a world riddled with danger and uncertainty.
Haddon’s first novel is unique in many ways. From the use of prime numbers to indicate the book’s chapters, to the many unique illustrations, Haddon forces the reader to take an active part in the novel. Instead of just being an entertaining read, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time makes us think in new ways. By presenting Christopher as the narrator, we are made aware of how seemingly uncertain and totally fabricated the real world seems. Logic goes out the window and language becomes a multi-tiered trickster, with words indistinguishable in meaning and pronouncements. Strangers are menacing, the authorities are not honorable, and even Christopher’s father cannot be trusted to tell the all-important truth. I don’t want to spoil the delightful twists and turns in this extraordinary novel by revealing too much, but I urge you to buy this book. To see the world with new eyes is a rare treat.