adult fiction, autism, book reviews, British fiction, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon, mysteries, mystery, realistic fiction, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.
“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, fifteen-year-old Christopher is autistic and everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. 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 favorite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes.”
I read The Curious Incident… quite a while ago, and remembered enjoying it, though also thinking it was really weird and not loving it. I reread it again for a book club, and was glad that I did so, although I still think that it’s a pretty odd book and not necessarily my cup of tea, at least in general. However, it is thought-provoking enough, and is one of those books that challenges your assumptions about people and about life. I don’t have that much to say about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but here goes nothing.
Christopher is certainly a fascinating character, a mix of contradictions. He is so, so intelligent, with extensive math and science knowledge, yet he is completely nonplussed when it comes to anything social. He doesn’t know how to chat with people, he can’t really process emotions and expressions very well, he doesn’t know when to, you know, not say things, and he talks rather brazenly about certain taboo subjects in polite conversations.
The most interesting thing about this book is the portrayal of how Christopher views the world so differently from everyone else. He cannot stand the color yellow, and yellow cars lined up in a row means that it will be a bad day. Red cars, however, are good; the more the better. This was particularly interesting because it seems pretty irrational, but when someone says that to Christopher, he points out that generally people will be in a better mood when it’s sunny as opposed to if it’s rainy, even if they work inside an office where weather has no effect on how their day goes. That made me stop and think for a moment; Christopher’s cars and the weather affecting mood are both, I suppose, kind of just overall omens or talismans. We need to make sense of the world somehow and form patterns.
My main problem with the book is that it’s rather simplistic at times, and the way of narrating is slightly annoying. Like, the vast majority of the sentences start with “and”, as in: “And he said…And I said…and then I…” The whole book isn’t like that, but there are some sections that are, and I wasn’t fond of it. I appreciate what Haddon was trying to do there, but it got monotonous after a while. I’m also not sure how well this actually portrays an autistic person’s experience. I realize there are many forms of autism, on many ends of the spectrum, so this is probably not much like most autistic kids (although some perhaps). The author did work with autistic children, so he probably has experience.
Something I did find interesting was how both of Christopher’s parents struggle with raising him and with their lives. They fight, and they threaten, and they swear, but still manage to be for the most part sympathetic characters. Still, there were definitely times when I disliked them. I do like how they’re realistic people; it must be so, so hard to raise an autistic yet highly gifted child like Christopher, and they struggle to do so. Christopher’s parents are two great characters.
I wasn’t overall fond of the ending; it was rather inconclusive, and didn’t tie the story up very well. I’m fine with ambiguous endings, but this was more just…sudden, and it didn’t fit the type of book that this is. I liked The Curious Incident okay, but it’s certainly not one of my favorite books or on that I’ll be rereading anytime soon. The story itself is very interesting, but the writing, at least for me, left much to be desired.