The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Maturity Level: 5
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Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.
Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.
What an outstanding book! Truly this is an exercise in seeing the world from the eyes of someone so different from yourself. It’s hard to believe with today’s push for neurodiversity in literature that this book was written over fifteen years ago. It is so ahead of its time, and just absolutely brilliant.
Not being autistic myself, it is impossible for me to say whether Haddon’s portrayal of Christopher was authentic. However, knowing what I know about autism, and in light of the relationship I’ve had with autistic students, Haddon seems to have hit the nail on the head. This novel was eye-opening in the way it shows how an autistic person’s brain may work differently than mine, and why that might make it more difficult for them to interact with the world.
Like many outstanding pieces of contemporary literature, this book was at times very difficult to read. Christopher struggles with some very frightening situations. And while they are written in his trademark factual style (he touched me and I screamed until he stopped), the reader nonetheless feels Christopher’s fear and discomfort. His parents and some of the adults in his life are … not awesome, but Christopher doesn’t necessarily understand that. Except when he does, but then that is equally difficult for the reader, but in different ways. I can’t explain it. Just, know that if you read this book it’s not going to be a happy, empowering book like Wonder. It’s difficult, but it’s important, and it’s worth battling through those difficult pieces.
Despite the outstanding character development that is really the purpose of this book, the narrative was interesting in itself. Christopher describes the book as a mystery, which isn’t completely inaccurate. But I found Christopher’s journey with his family more interesting than the mystery, as I think Haddon intended me to. Difficult as his family is, they are compelling and real. And you can’t help but root for Christopher.
This is a short, quick read. It’s important and heavy in its themes without the writing getting bogged down. Perfect for anyone who loved Flowers for Algernon or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.