Wednesday, July 20, 2005

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

This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them.
Yet, Mark Haddon's debut novel is full of ironic humor, some of it, quite bitter.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, for most of its pages, is a murder mystery -- narrated by the autistic 15 year-old Christopher who excels in math but due to his condition is hopeless in dealing with emotions and people. His condition makes him a quirky character. His disability causes, among other things, the inability to read others' emotions; compulsive behavior; and an intolerance for noise, and human touch. Christopher relaxes by groaning and solving math problems in his head. He eats red-but not yellow or brown-foods. And he imposes arbitrary rules and patterns on his surroundings:
4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks.
When his neighbor's dog, Wellington, is killed, Christopher makes up his mind to find out Wellington's murderer. Siobhan, a social worker/teacher at his school, encourages him to write a book about his investigation. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is thus born. And it is as quirky as its narrator. It is full of maps, illustrations, math problems and each chapter is numbered with a prime number because the protagonist likes prime numbers. Christopher's narration is extremely spare and logical. There is not a word that's superfluous in any description. And he uses no metaphors, because to his clear thinking mind, a metaphor is a lie.

Christopher follows the methods of one of his favorite characters, Sherlock Holmes, to track down Wellington's murderer. His investigations into the murder lead him not only to the identity of Wellington's murder but he also finds the secret of his parents' failed marriage and the answers to number of other questions in his life. We readers get an insight into his unique world -- a world that he negotiates with logic because he is socially hopeless and cannot comprehend the complex emotions that the world throws at him.

Though Christopher is unconventional you will yet find him very lovable. His matter-of-fact, plain observations and reactions evoke in us sympathy for his perplexed parents and an understanding of this guileless protagonist.

If for nothing else, Haddon's book should be lauded for the sensitive depiction of an autistic person. I doubt if any of us readers will ever react to an autistic without more understanding (and maybe even with some degree of compassion) after reading the book. For me that's the book's greatest triumph. It sensitizes readers to differently-abled persons without ever becoming condescending, or sentimental. And never is it tasteless.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is undoubtedly a clever book but it is also genuinely moving. I think it qualifies as a must-read.


Anonymous said...

I've read the book and liked it. A handful of times I have witnessed parents/caretakers of autistic children/adults in public places trying to handle a situation where the autistic person is loud or agitated. I have felt sympathetic towards the caretaker and not really knew what to make of the feelings/thoughts of the autistic person. I think reading this novel opens a window into both those worlds for me. I can better understand the complex emotions/thoughts running through the caretakers mind and catch the tip of the iceberg of what the autistic person must be going through. I thank 'Mark Haddon' for that perspective

Supremus said...

I loved this book! What can I say ! hehehe!

Good one.

Matthew Selwyn said...

I definitely think it's a must-read - I first picked it up when I was a teenager and I think especially for people at that age - still getting to know the world - it's an invaluable insight into what it is to be 'different'. Really good book.

My review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon