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

dscf1188I first read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time back when I was around ten years old. I remember being instantly attracted to the cover and the title because of my dog obsession, and immediately checked it out of the library (along with my usual pile of other books!) I am now nearly 22, and, as you can expect, I cannot remember a huge amount that happened within the book. So, after recently having a desire to experience the book again, I did just that.

This book has won many awards, been adapted for the Theater, and is generally regarded as a great and original piece of literature. If, by some miracle, you have never heard of this book, I can tell you that the main plot is fairly simple. The book is narrated by Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old boy who struggles greatly with daily tasks such as socialisation and interaction with people. One night, after finding his neighbour’s dog murdered with a pitch fork, Christopher decides to follow in the footsteps of the great Sherlock Holmes and discover the mystery using his logic.

Now, it is impossible to discuss this book without making some sort of reference to learning disabilities and disorders, especially those within the Autistic spectrum. My reading of the book very much gave me the impression that Christopher does have some sort of disability within this spectrum, and as such has various unique habits and behaviours (the blurb specifies Aspergers). Looking at it from this angle, the book is an absolute masterpiece at bringing a disability like this into the limelight in a sensitive and well thought way. What I found really interesting when researching this book was the fact that the author has stated that he never once used terms for learning difficulties such as Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and in fact no really mention is ever made to Christopher having something like this, except for that fact that he goes to a different kind of school compared to most children.

Society is, as we are all aware, obsessed with labelling, and it was a breath of fresh air to read this book in which the author did not feel the need to label Christopher. Because of this, I feel that the book is inclusive for many people, regardless or not of whether you suffer with a diagnosed condition or are unaware of any such things. Haddon does not confine Christopher to the limits of any problems he may or may not have, but allows his character to shine through in his own unique way, even if his quirks can be seen as resulting from such conditions.

I also read that the author did not do any research for the book relating to learning disabilities, but instead made up ten characteristics for Christopher and stuck to them throughout.  Perhaps, then, this is why the book works? The book is not bogged down by pointless facts or examples of behaviour issues as it perhaps could be if written from an expert’s point of view. The author leaves Christopher to come alive and determine his own character, leaving the story open to our own interpretation.  If, as my blurb states, Christopher does have Asperger’s, I strongly feel that this is done in a tactful and compassionate way, allowing readers to gain such a clever understanding.  A paragraph which I particularly loved read as follows:

‘All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call them stupid, even though this is what they are. I’m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat . . .’ (p. 56).

This paragraph shows how stupid labelling things within society really becomes if we begin to think, like Christopher, in a literal way.

It is immediately apparent on starting this book that we are going to be fully immersed into Christopher’s world and his outlook at things. I instantly noticed that the chapters did not follow a normal sequence, but as we are later told, are actually in the order of the prime numbers.  This, along with his mentions of various mathematically and scientific facts, shows the reader how comforting such facts and right answers can be for someone to whom the whole world is a place of uncertainty. This is further shown by Christopher’s use of handy diagrams, equations, images and footnotes (to name a few) which show how feeling as Christopher does can massively affect someone’s happiness.

Christopher is a keen and brilliant mathematician, and perhaps the only thing within maths which does not bring a safe answer or control are the attempts to count and name all the possible prime numbers. After briefly explain how prime numbers work, Christopher states:

‘Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them’. (p. 150)

This is brilliantly clever writing, and is a testament to the author’s skill and also grasp on life itself.  It also highlights the tendancies people have to say one thing, whilst really meaning another, and the countless hidden meanings we leave unspoken behind our actions. For someone who takes everything extremely literally, and as challenged by social interactions as Christopher, this is a brilliant analogy.

I think that by having a child narrator, it not only adds interest to the book, but also allows the reader to understand what growing up with learning difficulties can really be like. You need Christopher’s voice in first person to get his thoughts as and when they directly come, allowing him to explain his feelings the only way he is able to. Another part of the book which was superbly written was when Christopher describes what it is like to be how he is:

‘…a bakery . . . and sometimes the slicer is not working fast enough but the bread keeps coming and there is a blockage. I sometimes think of my mind as a machine, but not always as a bread-slicing machine. It makes it easier to explain to other people what is going on inside it’ (p. 18).

Narratives from a child’s point of view are extremely difficult to successfully achieve, but the above sentences are a testament to the original and  complex character which Haddon has managed to create in a realistic, and somewhat relatable way. As well as struggling with overload of thoughts, Christopher also struggles with personal space and being touched. It is especially heartwarming when he and his father place their thumb and fingers together which is their way of hugging. It not only shows the difficulties some parents must navigate, but also how ingenious they must be to solve problems which other people would never even think of.

One thing I will say which probably stopped me giving the book  a higher rating was that it did not contain a very dense plot. Although, having said this, the book is fashioned as Christopher’s own writing, so from this perspective does reflect this well. I was also slightly disappointed that the book is set up as a detective story about the dog who has been violently murdered, but does not really focus on this for long (although you will understand why when you read the book). I personally felt that the first half of the novel read as a stronger piece of work, as we see how Christopher lives and his daily activities. In contrast, the second half felt a bit more forced and harder to believe.  Additionally, I did guess the twist rather early on from thing such as the way various people react to certain things. Having said that, I actually think it is very clever that most of the readers would guess the twist, and it shows how differently Christopher’s mind works, and how he does not pick up on various social clues and signs which most people would be able to spot.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time really is a triumphant book. I can only congratulate Mark Haddon on this piece of work which is just as engaging and relevant upon my reading it so many years later, and I urge you all to read this physically small, but psychologically big book.

Publisher: Vintage Books

Rating: 4*/5*

 

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