Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was everywhere when it came out in 2003, so much so that I’ve avoided it for nearly fifteen years. What I wrote last week about afterwords and forewords often gets applied to books that are so much in the news that they get overhyped. Now that so much time has passed, I feel like I can give this novel a fair shot.
Fifteen-year-old mathematical genius Christopher Boone is on the autism spectrum. Over the course of the novel, we learn about his aversion to touching, the colors yellow and brown, and changes in routine. We also learn how his mind processes the world around him and how his mind is different from neurotypical minds. (One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was Christopher pointing out how illogical neurotypicals are. After all, neurotypicals can tell what people mean just from hearing exhalations from each other’s noses!) For Christopher there is so much information coming in all the time that avoiding change is one of the best ways for him to cope.
Christopher’s highly observant mind (and his love of Sherlock Holmes) lead him to investigate the disturbing murder of their neighbor’s dog. Despite his brief trouble with the police and his father’s constant warnings to stay away, Christopher is determined to figure out what happened. I would have called The Curious Incident a mystery, but much more of the novel revolves around our narrator’s relationships with his parents. The mystery is really just an entry point into what’s been happening with the small Boone family. But to say more about the plot would ruin the book.
I really enjoyed The Curious Incident and ended up being quite moved by Christopher’s story. He is utterly sympathetic as we watch him find out how much his parents have lied to him and broken his trust. This novel is very much a coming of age story, in which our narrator learns just how fallibly human his parents are while also learning to rely on himself. It’s kind of a shame I waited so long to read it.
Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommended for people who don’t understand autism or for readers with autism who’d like to see themselves in fiction.