The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Christopher. John. Francis. Boone. Simply articulating each of his given names conveys something of the mind of our hero: Christopher, whose book we are reading, in his first person, has Asperger's Syndrome. This form of autism (not named as such in the book) makes Christopher a mathematics whizz (each chapter is numbered in consecutive prime numbers) but something of a social failure: he cannot lie; cannot look people straight in the eye; and has great difficulty deciphering what people mean - he cannot read their emotions and he does not understood irony or metaphor. The larger metaphor for us all, as readers, is that whilst Christopher occupies a very particular and challenging place on the autistic spectrum, it is an arc somewhere on which we can all place ourselves. Looking people straight in the eye and precisely understanding other people's emotional states is no mean trick for the best of us.
Wellington, next door's dog, has been stabbed with a garden fork. Christopher finds him bleeding to death on the lawn. After an initial upset in which the police accuse him of the killing, Christopher decides to write a book - "a murder mystery" - as a process by which to uncover the identity of "the murderer".
A number of critics had suggested Haddon's book for this year's (2003) Booker prize. Indeed my understanding is that it was Booker Chair Peter Carey's favourite. But DBC (Pierre's Vernon God Little) won and Haddon will have to settle for a whole heap of praise and - I have no doubt - some other prizes along the way.
It's a beatifully rendered piece. Christopher's voice feels totally authentic and the mathematical cul-de-sacs up which Haddon takes the narrative give the whole work an autistic feel. Christopher is a pedant and the text is gloriously deadpan, free of metaphors (Christopher thinks they are lies unlike similes which are allowable indicative illustrations), childlike and perspicacious. When I finished the book I missed Christopher. Whilst his character quirks would seem, at best, a good way of alienating a reader what we find is that Christopher's honesty and quiet wisdom are, in fact, very moving. What makes being around people difficult for him makes him, as a character, wonderful to be around.
Hardback isbn: 0385605870
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