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Book review: <i>The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time</i> by Mark Haddon

When autistic fifteen year old Christopher John Francis Boone discovers his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, dead on the lawn with a gardening fork sticking in his side, he decides to investigate.

The story

Fifteen year old Christopher John Francis Boone likes red things, green things, the stars, maths, detective novels, and animals. He dislikes brown and yellow things, having different foods touching each other food on his plate, being touched, and interruptions to his carefully ordered life. One night, when he is walking in his neighbourhood, he sees Wellington the poodle lying on the ground with a garden fork sticking out of his side. Wellington is Mrs. Shears’s dog, and Christopher likes dogs. Who would kill Wellington?

Christopher decides to write a detective story, and try to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington. With the help of his teacher, Siobhan, he begins documenting his thoughts and detective work around the neighbourhood. But his father is reluctant to allow Christopher to investigate the mystery, and Mrs. Shears refuses to speak to him at all.

Although Christopher doesn’t like strangers, he encounters one of his other neighbours, Mrs Alexander. Mrs Alexander accidentally reveals a secret that sets Christopher on a path towards some uncomfortable truths, and a great and terrifying adventure.

The style

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is written in the first person through the eyes of the autistic protagonist Christopher, whose idiosyncrasies and coping mechanisms for life are revealed with poignant humanity. Not only can the reader see the way Christopher’s mind works, but they can also glimpse what it would be like to be Christopher. The reader can also see how people around Christopher respond to his autism and, while he can’t conceptualise these responses himself, the reader can.

The writing style is extremely well done. Christopher’s character has a naked honesty and simplicity of expression that is just so revealing about the character, society’s norms, family interactions, and so on. The writing is logical, just like Christopher, and occasionally he delves into a maths problem or a diagram to help demonstrate a tangent which contributes to the authenticity of the “we are reading Christopher’s notebook” experience. One thing that particularly stood out for me was that when people speak, the dialogue is always “I said...”, “he said...”, “she said...”. There were no complex emotions or expressions, because Christopher doesn’t understand them. It really adds to the authenticity.

I really wanted to know more about the main characters other than Christopher; like his mother and his father. While I found this frustrating, I realise the purpose of only having a little revealed demonstrates that Christopher will never be able to interact with his parents on the level the reader is interested in understanding, which again brings home his disability.

There are a couple of inconsistencies with Christopher’s idiosyncrasies. I won’t go into them in detail—I didn’t actually notice them until I read the book a second time—but they are minor and forgivable. I thought the ending was well handled by the author, because the plot got so messy, and I feel Haddon went in a good direction.

To sum up; loved it the first time, loved it the second time, and will no doubt love it when I read it again.

Who is this book for?

This story is just brimming with compassion and realism. It’s also easy to read, emotionally engaging, and I’m pretty sure would appeal to a huge range of people. It would make a great gift for anyone, maybe a teenager who needs encouragement to read.

In short

Title: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 1400077834
Year published: 2003
Pages: 226
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
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