It’s not often that I veer away from my very long “To Be Read” book list in order to tackle a title solely based on the number of recommendations it has received from other people, but that’s precisely how I came to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon’s award-winning 2003 novel.
I had no idea what the novel was about before I started reading it, so I was basically going into the whole thing without knowing what to expect. As it turns out, that was probably the best approach for me, since the premise — a 15-year-old autistic youth chronicles his attempts to find out who killed his neighbor’s dog — doesn’t sound all that appealing to me.
Fortunately, I never had the chance to form any pre-judgments, otherwise I would have missed one of the best modern books I’ve ever read!
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Christopher Boone is a 15-year-old British boy who lives a couple hours outside of London, England. He suffers from Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism. As a result, Christopher has numerous personality quirks that the reader comes to know about over the course of the novel. For example, there are certain colors he doesn’t like, his food has to be served a certain way, he doesn’t like to be touched, and he has trouble communicating with people because he doesn’t understand the various nuances of conversation (such as sarcasm). He’s also very good at math, and is incapable of telling lies, two characteristics that play prominent roles in the story.
As the novel opens, Christopher is relating to the reader the story of how he discovered Mrs. Shears’ dog Wellington stabbed to death with a pitchfork. Christopher felt sorry for the dog, so he picked it up and hugged it — just in time for Mrs. Shears to come out and catch him. She of course thought Christopher was responsible for the horrible deed, and calls the police.
Christopher freaks out when the police arrive, punching one of the cops who tries to touch him. So they haul Christopher down to the station and call his father Ed to come pick him up. Although Ed believes Christopher when he says he didn’t kill Wellington, Christopher is worried about what the other neighbors must think, so he decides to investigate the incident for himself to find out who really did it.
Ed is not too keen on this idea, but Christopher receives encouragement from Siobhan, his counselor at the special-needs school that he attends. Siobhan is the one who tells Christopher it might be fun to write a book about his investigation, so that’s why he’s recording everything.
The rest of the relatively short novel goes on to deal not only with Christopher’s investigation, but also with various subplots that come up as a result of the investigation. Of particular interest is the turn the narrative takes when Christoper discovers that his mother, whom he thought had died of a heart attack, is actually alive and well in London.
My Reaction: I found Curious Incident to be a highly engaging read. I am usually not too fond of storytelling “gimmicks”, so I was a bit apprehensive as to how this novel would work out as told from Christopher’s perspective. Now that I’ve read it, I have to say that I can’t imagine the story being half as interesting if told from any other character’s point of view.
I thought Haddon did an excellent job of giving readers an idea of what it was like to be in Christopher’s shoes without making the boy’s condition the be all and end all of the novel. Yes, I was acutely aware of Christopher’s condition throughout, but that just served to heighten my appreciation of his narrative abilities.
In one review of this book, the reader praised Haddon’s skills at inserting nuances into the story despite the fact that Christopher himself couldn’t understand these nuances. Instead, Christopher resorted to a faithful retelling of everything that happened to him (remember, he cannot tell lies), and it was up to the reader to notice these nuances and make the connections that Christopher couldn’t.
I’m finding it quite difficult to express in words just why you ought to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s more than simply an exercise in reading, and the experience transcends the limits of the story itself. Needless to say, I highly recommend this title, and encourage you to check it out for yourself!