I'm not sure where to start. This books was so good but so unique, I'm struggling putting my feelings about it down on virtual paper. As I finished the book, I was reminded of the following:
“Blessed are the weird people: poets, misfits, writers. mystics, painters, troubadours. for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.”
- Jacob Nordby, Pearls of Wisdom: 30 Inspirational Ideas to live your best life now
The book starts with a suspicious death when at 12:07am, Christopher John Francis Boone finds his neighbours dog dead on the front lawn. Seeing this incident through Christopher's eyes, we immediately realize that he does not react to the world in the same way that most of us do. The book is written from the point of view of a 15-year old boy who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties". And that understatement leads us on a wonderful journey of discovery.
While the unreliable narrator can be a trope that is hit or miss for me (A.J. Finn's "The Woman In The Window" = hit, B.A. Paris' "Behind Closed Doors" = not so much), in "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time", it was definitely a hit. Our main character does not look at life the way most of us do and Christopher processes and prioritizes information in a very unique way - often funny, frequently heartbreaking and sometimes scary.
Christopher finds the body of Wellington, his neighbours' poodle who has been killed using a garden fork, and inspired by one of his favourite literary characters, Sherlock Holmes, he sets out to avenge Wellington by solving his murder. Christopher's teacher Siobhan, suggests he writes a book about his investigation and "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" is born.
“I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk.”
- Mark Haddon, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Vintage Books, 2003), P. 3
In trying to solve Wellington's murder, Christopher starts asking questions of his neighbours and uncovers secrets about his family that not only reveal Wellington's killer, but send his well-ordered life into chaos.
Although there is a mysterious element in this book and some long-hidden secrets are uncovered, the story feels more like a quest novel or a coming of age story than a mystery. While there are puzzles to solve, the biggest puzzle of all is Christopher himself. By making Christopher the narrator and "author" of his own story, the reader is able to walk in Christopher's shoes as he steps from a once organized and structured life into one filled with unknown dangers. While Christopher may not be conquering Mordor or chasing after a serial killer, seen through his eyes, the ordinary feels like the extraordinary - a trip to London is a frantic flight from certain death and a ride on a train something from a spy novel with our hero disguised as a luggage rack and fearing discovery at every stop.
"And then the train stopped and a lady with a yellow waterproof coat came and took the big suitcase away and she said, "Have you touched this?"
And I said, "Yes."
And then she went away.
And then a man stood next to the shelf and said, "Come and look at this, Barry. They've got, like, a train elf."
An another man came and stood next to him and said, "Well, we have both been drinking."
And the first man said, "Perhaps we should feed him some nuts."
- Mark Haddon, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Vintage Books, 2003), P. 167
In reading other reviews about this book, I came across some blog posts and news articles that criticized the author for his portrayal of an autistic person. I can't comment on the representation in this book and whether it was accurate or not - I'm not autistic and I don't have anyone in my close circle of family and friends who is.
So, I did a bit more research and found a July 2009 blog post by the author that addressed the criticism.
"curious incident is not a book about asperger’s. it’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. indeed he never uses the words ‘asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (i slightly regret that fact that the word ‘asperger’s’ was used on the cover). if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. it’s as much a novel about us as it is about christopher."
- Mark Haddon, Mark Haddon Blog, "asperger's and autism", 2009
Do not read this book if you are looking for the definitive guide on what being autistic means. Instead, recognize that this is a "day in the life" story of someone who likely does not see the world in exactly the same way that you do. Please consider spending 221 pages looking at the world through Christopher's eyes. Solve the murder, uncover the family secrets, deal with the shock and learn to shape a "new normal" in a world where none of us are truly normal. In my opinion, you won't regret it.