Author: Mark Haddon
Published: July 31, 2003
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
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“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.”My Thoughts
― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
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. What follows makes for a novel that is deeply funny, poignant, and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally. (Goodreads)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not an easy read, and it would leave even the most uncaring and insensitive of individuals emotionally affected. Told from the POV of Christopher Boone, an autistic teenager constantly overwhelmed by his everyday surroundings, I found myself sympathizing with his struggles. Christopher sees nearly everything in a different light than you or I would. His thought process is so much more logical, as very little emotion gets in the way of his making decisions. He observes small details that I would never even notice in the same situation. Yet, at the same time, he lacks some of the necessary skills anyone would need to live on their own. Even the simplest tasks, like purchasing a train ticket or boarding the train, are just too much for him. And as for walking in crowded public places, like a train station or a shopping mall, you can forget about it. The crowds and noises and advertisements all blend together, overstimulating him until he has to cover his ears, close his eyes, and solve a puzzle mentally to calm down.
Christopher is far from your typical protagonist. He is unable to read facial cues or detect subtle changes in a person's mood, so he is more comfortable with dogs or his pet rat Toby. He hates the colors yellow and brown, and he won't even eat yellow food and has to add red food coloring. On his way to school, he counts the vehicles that pass, and four yellow cars in a row mean a Black Day where he doesn't talk to anyone and keeps to himself in a corner. Yet red is his favorite color, so three red cars in a row mean a Good Day, and five in a row mean a Super Good Day and so on. He shows very little emotion, except for fear and confusion. He does not like to be touched, even by his family, and he will lash out and hit anyone who does touch him. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, he describes settings in detail only because his teacher told him that is what is expected of writers. He'd much rather solve math problems or state the facts only.
Usually, this coldness would leave me feeling distant or unaffected, but in this book, it was the exact opposite. I couldn't help but feel for Christopher and all that he endures, and all of these characteristics made the book more realistic. While Christopher is undeniably clever, he tends to miss obvious clues given in casual conversation that would be obvious to anyone else. He cannot engage in small talk because he is unable to understand its purpose, and I found his interactions with others to be eye-opening as well as heartbreaking. Jokes or well-known metaphors that you and I would be familiar with might as well be foreign language to Christopher. I almost teared up when I saw how oblivious Christopher was to tragedy. To him, crying or talking out his feelings made absolutely no sense. I looked up Mark Haddon on Wikipedia, and I saw he worked with autistic individuals, and his extensive knowledge of the disorder is obvious as you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
When you pick up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you may be expecting a suspenseful read where the dog murderer is revealed with a flourish, given the synopsis and title. You might even think this is a mystery where a young boy uncovers the culprit despite his disorder, leaving you proud of how far he has come. This book is none of the above. Yes, I admired Christopher's accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem to some, but this book is not a mystery and Christopher does not carry out nearly as much detective work as I was expecting. In actuality, the murderer is discovered halfway through. Yet this still worked for me because this book isn't about the dead dog or the murderer or a small town's secrets; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is all about what happens after the dog's death and how this incident leads to even more discoveries for Christopher. Like a line of dominoes set in motion by tapping just one, Wellington's death brings about a chain of events that drastically changes Christopher's life. I foresaw some of the plot developments, but somehow, I was still unsettled after they unfolded.
Very little happens throughout The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but each development is tripled in significance when viewed through Christopher's eyes. When I reached the last page, I could see that Christopher had not changed all that much, if at all, and that was a devastating realization. Yes, he had traveled and experienced new things. Yes, he has aspirations, and I have no doubt he will excel in his studies, but he still is incapable of handling change. He still cannot live by himself. He was the same as he was in the beginning, which is to be expected. I have known autistic individuals, but this book gave me a much deeper understanding of autism, and I was left reeling in result. I would say The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is definitely worth picking up, as it explores the depths of a mind that may be different but is still just as complex as any other.