Allison's Book Bag

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

Posted on: April 3, 2015

I recently found myself talking to the book I was reading. It was the award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Initially, I merely pondered inwardly whether the main character was an accurate depiction of autism. However, as startling developments started to unfold, I began to rant outwardly to the characters about their choices, their beliefs, their actions. It’s been awhile since a book got under my skin like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Having first read the book many years ago, I elected to reread The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when I discovered it had won the Dolly Gray Award in 2004. This is an award given to recognize authors whose book for young people appropriately portrays individuals with developmental disabilities. In Curious Incident, Christopher is a fifteen-year-old with autism who discovers a murdered dog and, later, some letters from his dead mother. I liked that mysteries and relationships were at the forefront of a novel which also happened to feature a main character with developmental disabilities.

My research into Mark Haddon revealed that most critics bought into his depiction of autism, but some felt Haddon relied on stereotypes. In a sense he does: Christopher has a photographic memory and is a mathematical genius. Even though the first ability does explain how Christopher could find his way to London on his own, its under-use fails to justify the cliché. In contrast, mathematical ability seems an integral part of Christopher, in the same way that Rose’s obsession with homonyms felt natural in Rain Reign. Moreover, there also aren’t many novels where an excellence in math receives respect and so, even though I didn’t understand half of it, I found the math a refreshing change of pace.

In another sense, Haddon took traits which are true of many of who fall on the autism spectrum and reinvented them to fit Christopher and thereby created a complex character. For example, Christopher determines whether a day is good or bad by the number and color of cars he sees. In addition, Christopher makes a point of telling white lies, when it fits his needs. Case in point, Christopher constantly figures out ways to keep investigating the dead dog’s murder long after his father has expressing forbidden the search.

As for the startling developments that prompted my verbal exclamations, I can’t talk too much about them without spoiling the plot. What I can tell you is that at times Christopher annoyed me. If he sees the world in pictures, he feels that the rest of us are deprived because we don’t. This feels downright arrogant. The neighbor whose dog got killed also irritated me. At one moment, she’s giving comfort to the dad when Christopher’s mom disappears. The next moment, she’s telling Christopher not to come around. Why the 180 degree turn, lady? I also felt frustrated by Christopher’s dad, who kept too many secrets from Christopher. At times I felt real anger towards these characters. Christopher blatantly disregards the pain of others to insist on taking A-Level math exams, even though he could take them another year. As for the dad, despite being Christopher’s sole protector he ends up making Christopher terrified of him. Yet as much as I disliked these characters at times, they also felt like real human beings just trying to make sense of the mixed-up life handed to them. For that reason, I also had to love them.

Because The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time got under my skin, I knew my review wasn’t going to be a typical analysis of plot, character, and setting. Instead it’s just my visceral reaction to the characters. For example, I tired of how Christopher constantly needed to disprove the existence of God. Science has just as many unanswered questions as religion. (Yes, I admit that I am biased. Then again, so is the author.) At the same time, I empathized with Christopher’s need for structure. Although he could, with a great amount of effort, keep himself calm in the face of enormous stress, his mind could also actually start to fail him to the point that even everyday signs appeared as gibberish. My reactions would be less extreme, but I do greatly relate to how he feels.

Not a typical mystery or even realistic fiction, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a book that will get you thinking and talking about a wide variety of topics. What is it like to be autistic? How does one deal with a pain that doesn’t go away? Should one rebuild trust in a broken relationship? Whatever your responses, I can guarantee The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will not be soon forgotten.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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