the curious incident of the dog in the night-time – Mark Haddon, Vintage, 2003, 240 pages
Here’s a genuinely novel concept for a book: write a first-person narrative. Make the narrator a young boy with a behavioural disorder (think Asperger’s or Autism). Make it a mystery novel, about a bigger mystery than just the titular Dog, and add copious elements of mathematics and the odd illustration of facial expressions.
I’m not sure I was expecting this to be “my” kind of book, but I was startled by how moving and emotional it was despite being told through the rather emotionless, logical lens of Christopher Boone. The feelings of his parents and everyone around him penetrate the story, even though Christopher himself is unaware of how much they are affected by his comments and actions.
It begins with a dead dog on the lawn. Christopher likes dogs, and he also wants to solve a mystery. He begins to write his own mystery novel as he unravels the case of Who Killed Wellington, giving an insightful glimpse into his well-ordered world. Difficulties arise between Christopher and his father who, as Christopher tells the reader near the beginning, has been parenting alone since his mother died two years before.
Christopher’s perspective narrows even the most complex of adult situations to a pure, rational simplicity. Human relations are mathematic, and without trust, in Christopher’s mind, there can be no love. This story deals a lot with trust issues, the ethics of honesty, and being different. Haddon wrote a really insightful blog post on what he truly intended the story to be about – not Asperger’s or Autism, but “being an outsider” and “seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way”. It’s sad, then, that the only thing I really knew about this book prior to reading it, all from hearsay, was that it was about an (apparently) Autistic kid. However, Haddon never labels Christopher with a specific condition, preferring instead to “peel off labels” and “stand up for difference” through his writing. Well said, Mark Haddon; well said. Good books should allow readers to think outside the boundaries of labels, rather than reinforce them.
Christopher is incredibly smart, and surprisingly adventurous. His solo train journey to London, in which he feels dizzy and overwhelmed by the crowds and new information, is inspiring. I was so proud of him when he made it to the city that I wanted to jump up and cheer him on, but I was quietly reading in a car full of people so I refrained. This is a quick read, written in a truly creative format, offering perspective into a world that most of us are otherwise unaware of, and I would highly recommend it for all of those reasons.