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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 4.5 Star Rating (4 Reviews)


The Curious Incident of the Dog
Like any good suspense novel, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time wastes no time getting into the thick of action. On the very first page, fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, the novel's protagonist discovers the corpse of his neighbor's dog impaled by a pitchfork. The incident acts as a catalyst, setting Christopher on a quest-inspired by his favorite character Sherlock Holmes-to find out who is responsible for the gruesome crime.

Christopher, though, is not the kind of run-of-the-mill precocious young detective we all remember reading about as kids. Rather, Christopher suffers from a fairly intense autism, an affliction that seriously effects the way he comes to research the case, the way he interprets the information he uncovers, and ultimately how that information is passed on to the reader. Christopher's autism is also what sets Haddon's novel apart from those other young detective novels, as the focus of the story is much less about who killed the dog, and much more about the way Christopher goes about uncovering who is responsible.

Christopher's autism plays a particularly active role in his detective work, especially when it comes to his association with others. As we find out in the opening chapters of the book, Christopher is easily frustrated when he encounters situations to which he doesn't know how to react. This comes out initially when he is confronted by a police officer asking him whether he had anything to do with the dog's death. Unable to understand why he is being questioned and angered by the officer's association, Christopher tries to retreat from the situation: "I put my hands over my ears and closed my eyes and rolled forward till I was hunched up with my forehead pressed onto the grass. The grass was wet and cold. It was nice." When the officer persists, Christopher gets increasingly aggravated and takes a swing at him. This is one of several times that Christopher reacts violently to uncomfortable situations throughout the book, and through Christopher's narrative, Haddon does a good job at describing just what it is that sets him off and why.

Ultimately, the brilliance of Haddon's novel is in this choice to tell it through Christopher's point-of-view. In doing so, he is effectively able to explain the world through Christopher's eyes. This is not only done through the narrative, but also the structure of the book. All chapters are numbered prime (from 2-233) because, as Christopher says, "Prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them."

In addition to being only able to think in these logical, set, standards (he hates novels because "they are lies about things which didn't happen") Christopher is also a very visual thinker, and must have explicit visual stimulation to understand a situation. He cannot, for example understand facial expressions because they move too fast for him to comprehend. As result, visuals (charts, graphs, pictures, and diagrams) are used throughout the book when Christopher is trying to explain something to the reader.

As Christopher digs deeper into the case, Haddon's narrative opens up, veering away from one mystery to another as in the process of snooping around about the dog, Christopher uncovers secrets about his own family. As Christopher says, "I was excited. When I started writing my book there was only one mystery I had to solve. Now there were two." After all, neither Haddon nor the reader really cares about that dog (or at least I didn't). The novel is a much bigger picture than that: about how a child's illness can effect not only his life, but the lives of his parents and loved ones as well.

Once Christopher uncovers some old letters from his mom, stashed away in his dad's room, he starts to question whether the story his dad has been telling him about his mom's death is even true. At this point, the story shifts gears entirely, as Christopher now attempts to put the pieces of a completely different puzzle together. one that has a much bigger meaning in his life than who put the kibosh on the dog next door (though the answer to that question will come to light by the novel's conclusion).

User Reviews

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 4 out of 5
The Curious Incident of an Unexpected Reader, Member DanaM91

Often times, the criteria for a “good read,” are that it is relatable, confident, and composed. I happened to come across a book that was none of the above. In fact, it was unrelatable, awkward, and cynical. But that made the book nonetheless brilliant. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, is recounted by 15-year-old Christopher Francis Boone, a child living with autism. After finding his neighbor’s dog slain in her front yard, Christopher unveils a series of truths not only of the murder but also about himself. This murder mystery novel is an eccentrically written tale that calls for a new way of thinking. The use of language puts the reader in the shoes of young Christopher. Haddon uses very plain, basic text to emphasize an autistic mindset. In Chapter 83, Christopher states, “I would make a good astronaut. To be a good astronaut you have to be intelligent. I am intelligent” (50). In order for something to make sense to Christopher, there must be science behind logic. In order for the book to make sense to the reader, you must un-train your mind of the conventional way we are taught to read. For example, Christopher has a reoccurring dream where nearly everyone on Earth is infected with a fatal virus. He says, “People die because of the meaning of something an infected person says and what they do with their faces when they say it… it spreads quickly” (198). After rereading, it became obvious that everyone infected is a person living without Christopher’s condition. Therefore, Christopher would no longer be forced to live as an outsider. On the surface, the book is impossible to empathize, but the stylized consistency of the language is genius and observant. As seen in the characters that surround Christopher, it appears typical to ignore the capabilities of a disabled child. The fact that Haddon was able to acknowledge this stereotype yet rebut its fault is moving. Even Christopher’s teacher underestimates his talents. However, Christopher verifies his intelligence when his disproves six PhDs who wrote in infuriated comments to an “incorrect” answer that had been posted in a math column. Not only was the answer correct, Christopher found another possibility. The success of this novel also comes from the theme of “detection.” The detective nature of Christopher is parallel to the detective state the reader is develops subconsciously. The plot might be perceived as a murder-mystery. However there is another side- this being the reader functioning as a detective to Christopher’s mind. The reader will gain a sense of confidence in Christopher and fulfillment for themselves. The honest way in which the book was written captures a perspective that the reader is forced and willing to understand, as it is important to not let simple words overshadow complex thoughts. We are reminded of the metaphors we use to describe ourselves. As Christopher would say, “The mind is just a complicated machine” (116).

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