The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon)
This tale of a boy with Asberger’s Syndrome and his daily struggle to understand the world around him was a truly ground-breaking novel and came highly-recommended to me. The eponymous dog is found stabbed to death in the opening paragraphs and despite (or actually, because of) his very unusual way of looking at the world, Christopher decides he must find out who was responsible. Very quickly, it becomes to clear to all but Christopher that far more important matters are at stake and that even though eventually, he knows he must address them, it has to be in his own way, in his own time.
The book is written entirely from Christopher’s autistic perspective and is a perfect example of how a fairly simple plot can be made all the more compelling in the revelation. Christopher’s limited worldliness therefore becomes a great plot device to allow the events of his own life to slowly come into focus.
Along the way, we begin to understand more fully how Asberger’s compels Christopher to deal in logic in the face of unreliable things like humour, social norms and human relationships. We see how he takes refuge in more predictable areas of life, like mathematics when he feels alienated by things that most of us barely even consider. We appreciate how the compulsions to find complex patterns in even the most mundane things can render Christopher (and, by extension, others with Asberger’s) absolutely helpless in the face of what can seem to them a never-ending stream of stimulus.
An unlikely hero he may be but it would be a cold-hearted reader who isn’t rooting for Christopher as he steps outside of his life-sustaining comfort zone in his attempts to take control of his situation. The juxtaposition of banality and pure jeopardy make for a strong compulsion to page-turning and I found it only took me around four hours to read it from cover to cover.
This is a very thoughtful book, written with warmth but a deep insight into the world in which many on the autistic spectrum are forced to inhabit. Occasionally witty and always engaging, it’s a story that will live longer in the memory than most novels because it is so very idiosyncratic. It educates and entertains in equal measure and ultimately rewards the reader with a perspective that is surely more life-affirming than any other book that refers to a dead animal in its title.
If you’re still thinking the dead dog thing has put you off, don’t let it. It’s discussed very matter-of-factly (you’ll come to expect nothing less from Christopher) and it’s barely mentioned after the first page. It’s what the dog provides a smokescreen to that will really test your emotions.