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Book Review - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Christopher's World

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon

Published by Doubleday

Review by W. R. Greer

The behaviors and demands of adults are mysterious and confusing to most children. To 15-year old Christopher Boone, the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, it's completely beyond the realm of his understanding. Christopher is an autistic savant and while he's a whiz at math and science, human emotions are particularly complex for him. As the novel opens, he tells us "I know all of the countries of the world and their capital cities, and every prime number up to 7,057." He finds a neighbor's dog, named Wellington, murdered and decides to write about it. With the help of his teacher, Siobhan, he decides to write a book about his attempt to solve this mystery. It's a search for information that will ultimately upset his carefully constructed world.

Christopher lives alone with his father after his mother died from a heart attack two years earlier. He never got to visit her at the hospital, but this doesn't bother him since he doesn't like strange places or people he doesn't know. If people touch him, he will hit them. If his senses become overloaded or his brain too confused, he will curl up in a ball and groan loudly, perhaps for hours at a time. Becoming angry with him just makes it worse. He hates the colors yellow and brown. His world needs order and precision. He will do math problems in his head for hours just to pass the time or distract him from an unpleasant situation. As he begins his investigation into Wellington's death, he assures us that everything he will tell us is true:

I do not tell lies. Mother used to say that this was because I was a good person. But it is not because I am a good person. It is because I can't tell lies.
Mark Haddon, who has worked with autistic children, has created a unique narrator to tell this story. At first glance, an autistic child whose fantasy is to wake one day and find he's the only living person left on earth would seem to be an unlikely narrator. We quickly come to understand Christopher Boone and his understandings and misunderstandings of how the world works. We sympathize with the adults who must suffer his fits and practice extreme patience with the minute details with which he orders his life. Christopher's father is the most patient with him, even if his manner is gruff at times. He quickly forbids Christopher to ask anyone questions about Wellington's death and to promise to let the matter die, which Christopher does, within the specifics of his promise. The questions he's already asked, though, and the people he's already met have put events into motion that will eventually send him on an adventure that will challenge all of his skills to cope with the world that he is especially challenged to understand.

Because Christopher understands even less of the world than most 15-year olds, the result is that seeing the effects of emotions, lies, and intrigue of the adult world through his eyes lets them hit even more powerfully. Since he sees all this in his non-judgmental perspective and only how they affect the careful order in his world, the flaws of the adults are heightened by their disregard for the effect they have on Christopher while also being tempered by the fact that his autism has placed incredible stresses on all their lives. Christopher is more than just a different medium for seeing the world. In Mark Haddon's capable hands, he quickly becomes all too real, and while he can be incredibly frustrating, he explains his world in a way that makes perfect sense. When events unfold that threaten his carefully maintained world, his quest to solve the problem is as adventurous and dangerous as any literary character. To Christopher, it's something he just must do.

Christopher Boone makes The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a delightful and different novel. It provides a different perspective on the flaws and foibles of man, where adults can often act as childish and petulant as the children. While the redemption of love and the bonds of family may be universal themes, Mark Haddon has provided a touching look at how they affect one boy and one family.

When this book was initially released, it received rave reviews. After it had won awards and stayed one of the most popular books on this site, I decided I had finally had to read it. I shouldn't have waited so long. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time should be on everyone's reading list.

Copyright © 2005

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