Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Review)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon, 2003
240 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
April 2007

What's the world like in the mind of an autistic child? That's the question Mark Haddon explores in this funny, immensely readable book about an autistic English boy.

On page 1 Christopher Boone (15) finds his neighbor’s dog stabbed with a garden fork Over the next 119 pages, he attempts to solve the mystery of its murder.  On page 120, he finds the answer; 101 pages later, the book ends. There are 45 drawings, 17 charts and graphs, 12 equations, 16 lists, and 1 photo. And that’s not counting the 3-3/4 page appendix. It took me 2:57:45 hours to finish the book.

That's pretty much the way the young narrator negotiates his world: he uses numbers, logic, and scientific facts. He can’t understand jokes or metaphors like “he was the apple of her eye”: his brain can’t compute the equation apple = eye because an apple is not an eye. It just isn’t. Yet he can compute stunningly complicated mathematical equations in his head —he’s an autistic savant.

As narrator, Christopher mediates the world for us:  we see everything through his misfired and over-fired synapses—the results are amusing and illuminating. He shows us our own cultural misfirings:  our absurd use of language, the shallow convention of “chatting,” the white (and not so white) lies we tell, and the uncontrollable anger of supposedly mature adults, whose tantrums aren’t all that unlike Christopher's own.

Yet, because he can see the world only through facts and logic, Christopher is unable to grasp the subtleties and mystery of human feeling. And, for the same reason, he is unable to impose moral judgment on our human frailties. As a result, it's a little harder for us to pass judgment, too.

Clubs say this book generates excellent discussions of autism.  I think it also can generate some very interesting discussions about the behavior of so-called normal folk.

See our Reading Guide for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

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