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the curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Mark Haddon

Doubleday/Random House

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Publication Date: 06-17-2003

226 Pages; $22.95

Date Reviewed: July 15, 2003

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003



Mystery, General Fiction

07-18-03, 06-14-04

Some books make you think, or think differently. Others make you explore unknown territories. Still others make you laugh. It is the rare book that makes you effortlessly do all three. 'the curious incident of the dog in the night-time' happens to be one of those books.

Mark Haddon sets himself a daunting task - to write a first person narrative from the perspective of a fifteen-year old boy, an autistic boy, brilliant, analytical, mathematically gifted and completely devoid of emotion. That he succeeds is remarkable. That he creates an emotionally moving book is truly an awesome achievement.

'the curious incident of the dog in the night-time' is the story of Christopher Boone, an autistic boy, who sets out to write a detective story about the killing of a neighbor's dog. His detection leads him to uncover long-hidden family secrets and ultimately to the shake-up of his carefully constructed, tightly controlled world. The plot is minimal and adequate, but close to irrelevant. This is a character driven book and the driver is solely Christopher.

Christopher is a wholly engrossing narrator. He has an exceptionally bright and engaging mind that veers randomly in odd and interesting directions. He's a mathematical genius who finds solace in things numeric, countable, controllable and logical. Christopher eagerly tells us of his terrors, his omens, his reasons for hating yellow and brown and loving red, and exactly what he thinks of Sherlock Holmes. He explains himself in flowcharts and formulas, logical to him, but not always to us. Seeing four yellow cars on the way to school makes it a Black Day, so he refuses to eat or talk. Five red cars, on the other hand, make it a Super Good Day, when something special is destined to happen. Christopher can be quite a funny narrator, particularly as he puzzles through similes and metaphors, figures of speech, or anything having to do with human connections or emotional interactions. He works so hard, so diligently, to frame and master what is, to him, incomprehensible,

Haddon writes Christopher with a light touch, a matter-of-fact portrayal that's actually not matter of fact at all. He never looses his voice, never breaks out of his character, and it is this consistency that swallows us into Christopher's world. As he narrates, we begin to see things as Christopher does; we begin to understand him, to see him as a whole child. The impact Christopher has on those around him, the challenges faced by his parents, are understated, set out straight forwardly, as backdrop not drama. It all makes sense to Christopher, it is all clear and everything is logical. It is for us, the readers, to fill in the spaces, to round out the story.

I can't remember reading a book where I've done so much of the work. Work I did willingly, unknowingly, without a thought. It wasn't until I'd put the completed book aside that I realized I'd done any work at all. I provided the emotion, the tension, and much of the terror that make this such a compelling story. When Christopher learns of his mother's fate, I immediately filled in the back-story of why that was so and at what cost. When Christopher sets off for London, on the train and then on the Tube, I steeled myself for disaster. I supplied my own dread. When his father offers apologies for past actions, Christopher registers it as simple words on the page, remote and without feeling. I supplied the father's anguish. Haddon clearly knows autistic territory and gave me an amazingly perceptive character, a set of circumstances and made it essential and easy for me to do the rest. Haddon provided the play-by-play; I provided the color commentary.

Many readers will herald this book as a socially relevant, eye-opening story that will enhance our understanding of the challenges faced by autistic children and their parents. I also found it an extraordinary story of an unemotional boy who becomes an emotionally compelling character. Logic can beat back terror and brilliance can mask a broken brain. Christopher is a dysfunctional, but brave, boy, unhuggable but not unlovable, who clearly merits his place in this world. He will linger with me, as I suspect he will with others who read this book.