The Curious Incindent of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a beautiful children’s story with very deep and frequent undercurrents that can move readers of all ages. It’s the best known book by the British novelist and poet, which won him a Whitbread Book of the Year Award, a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and a Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.
The mystery novel was published in 2003, simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children. Readers experience the story through the eyes of Christopher thanks to the first-person narrative. Christopher is 15 years old and suffers from Asperger syndrome (a type of autism). This makes him experience the world differently from the rest of us, which is what makes the book interesting.
Sometimes we get sad about things and we don’t like to tell other people that we are sad about them. We like to keep it a secret. Or sometimes, we are sad but we really don’t know why we are sad, so we say we aren’t sad but we really are. (Christoper in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)
Christopher is very smart but socially inept and lives his live according to specific patterns and routines. His world is turned upside down when he finds his neighbour Mrs. Shears’ dog murdered. He runs to the dog to help, but he’s too late. When the police arrive a little later, they think he did it so they arrest him. Christopher’s father comes to get him out but the entire ordeal has made a big impression on the boy. That is why he decides to investigate the murder, even though his father doesn’t want him too. His teacher at school however thinks it is a good idea and encourages him to write a book about it. That is the book that we are reading now.
He starts by overcoming his fear of talking to people and interrogates everyone in the street. He quickly suspects Mr. Shears, the ex-husband of his neighbour Mrs. Shears. Christopher thinks Mr. Shears hurt the dog because he wanted to hurt his ex-wife. He also learns from another neighbour that Mr. Shears used to have an affair with his mother. When his father finds out about all of this, they have a big fight and his father takes his book away because he wants Christopher to stop investigating.
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. (Christoper in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)
A few days later, Christopher sees five red cars in a row, which is a sign that something amazing will happen so he decides to restart his investigation. He goes looking for his book, which he finds in his father’s room along with a number of letters. These letters are addressed to Christopher, so he reads them. They turn out to be from his mother, who he thought had died 2 years ago from a heart attack. When he confronts his father, he tells Christopher that his mother left the both of them for their neighbour. He says he only did it for Christopher’s own good, and he even admits to killing the dog because he was angry at the man that took his wife away.
Christopher gets scared and decides he can no longer trust his father. He makes up his mind to run away to his mother, who lives in London with Mr. Shears. It takes him a full day to get there because of his Aspergers. The many stimuli make it hard for him to concentrate and he constantly needs to overcome his fears to make the journey. He arrives at his mother’s house late at night and spends the night there. She welcomes him with open arms and says he can stay for as long as he wants.
Lots of things are mysteries. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer to them. It’s just that scientists haven’t found the answer yet. (Christoper in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)
His father comes to London in order to convince him to come back, but Christopher still doesn’t trust him. However, his mother’s boyfriend Mr. Shears doesn’t want Christopher living with them so they break up. That is how Christopher and his mother end up moving back to Swindon to live there. His mother eventually allows his dad to visit Christopher for a short time every day but Christopher remains scared. He fears that his dad will kill him as well, and thinks he should be imprisoned for killing the dog. At the end of the story, Christopher gets a dog from his father, who is trying and will keep on trying to restore their relationship.
At the end, Christopher writes down that he believes he can do anything since he was able to go to London and solve the curious incident of the dog in the night-time all by himself. He is happy, has just finished his A-levels in maths and is looking forwards to the future.
I wondered if this was a joke, because I don’t understand jokes, and when people tell jokes they don’t mean what they say. (Christoper in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)
It’s a very curious book in many ways. Firstly of course because it is written from Christopher’s perspective who views the world very literally. We experience firsthand how he views the world because he is the one writing it down. It’s an interesting and original view of the world and makes us aware of all the things we consider normal and how they can be difficult for someone with an autism spectrum disorder.
Christopher also doesn’t work with traditional chapters. He numbers them not from 1 to 10, but only uses prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19, … He is a mathematician and especially fond of prime numbers. And he also consistently switches between two kinds of chapters: one chapter is Christopher writing down everything in his search for the murderer, in the other chapters he talks about himself, his life and aren’t directly about the story itself.
It’s a book that you don’t read in a few hours, it takes some time getting used to Christopher’s writing style and way of viewing the world. But once you’ve got the hang of it, it turns out to be a really interesting and original book. Haddon never intended to write a book about autism, and he never mentions the word in the story (it is explained on the back of the book though). But he did succeed in accurately portraying how the mind of someone with autism works and it has yielded a very interesting book. I recommend it to young readers about the same age as Christopher because younger children might not understand it. But I also recommend that adults read it, as it will make you think about this world and how we perceive it.
Did you like the book? Or was the particular writing style too alienating for you? Be sure to let me know in the comments!