A new year and a new book review! I finished reading this one just before Christmas but, what with all the to-ing and fro-ing over the holidays, this has been my first opportunity to sit down and write about it. I knew I wouldn’t forget to do it though – this isn’t the kind of book that slips quickly from the mind.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a remarkable read. It is told from the point of view of Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who loves maths and who doesn’t like to be touched. At the beginning of the story, he discovers that his neighbour’s dog has been murdered and sets out to solve the mystery of ‘Who killed Wellington?’, but this leads him to make a second, far more startling discovery which will bring about an enormous upheaval in his life.
The novel is very cleverly constructed and everything about it is presented through Christopher’s eyes, right down to the formatting. When I opened the book to find Chapter 2 on the first page, I initially thought that it was a misprint or that I was missing the first chapter. Then I realised that the chapters are not numbered 1, 2, 3 but follow the prime number sequence of 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 and so on because Christopher likes prime numbers. Placing this kind of order on the chapter numbers is a reflection of Christopher’s own interpretation of the world – it is a slightly different take but it is still a very logical progression.
Through reading this book, you gain quite an illuminating insight into the mind of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Mark Haddon’s level of detail in describing his protagonist’s thought processes provides the reader with a real depth of understanding as to why Christopher thinks and behaves the way he does. Thus we see the sense in his explanation of why 5 red cars in a row means a Super Good Day and 4 yellow cars in a row means a Black Day, and also why he doesn’t know how to do ‘chatting’. His interpersonal skills are limited and he seems to be able to distinguish only two levels of expression in dialogue: ‘said’ and ‘shouted’; however, he is very intelligent and the book is littered with drawings and diagrams to illustrate his points, including an appendix devoted to solving a maths equation. This straightforward, image-based approach to storytelling is unusual and refreshing, and well-suited to a character who doesn’t like metaphors.
Haddon does not sugarcoat any of the grimmer aspects of the novel, in terms of the difficulties others face when trying to cope with Christopher’s intractable nature and in particular regarding Christopher’s lack of empathy. There are a couple of times in the story where you want him to submit to a loving hug because you believe it will make him feel better and, perhaps more importantly, it will make you feel better too. But his resistance to such physical comfort, even at his most vulnerable moments, is the truest response because of his instinctive aversion to human contact. Haddon does not succumb to sentimentality, no matter how much satisfaction it might give his readers – he remains realistic to the last, which is what gives the story and his main character such authenticity.
Insightful, original, surprising – this is a highly recommended read.