Book review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Yes, yes, I know I’m late to the party. Mark Haddon’s acclaimed book ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘ was first published in 2003. It has been sitting on my bookshelf (in hardback, no less) for many, many years but I have finally got round reading it and seeing what all the fuss was about.

The basic plot is as follows: Our narrator is 15 year old Christopher Boone. Christopher has a few quirks of behaviour and personality. He describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. Haddon never states quite what Christopher’s condition or issue might be, but the most commonly held belief is that he has Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum. At the start of the novel, Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog, which has been killed, and immediately determines he will solve the mystery of who the culprit might be. His investigation sets off a chain of events and presents Christopher with many challenges to his world view.

On picking up the book, I was quite worried that this would be someone’s attempt to try and ‘understand’ autism and that it would be patronising. However, I found that whatever was the cause of Christopher’s more unusual habits really wasn’t a concern within the story, nor does it particularly matter to the reader.  Christopher is who he is; explanations aren’t necessary. I thoroughly enjoyed being presented with a different perspective on the world and found Christopher’s analysis of events and behaviours amusing and occasionally uncomfortably clear-sighted. I found the parts of the novel that detailed mathematical or scientific problems rather dull, but understood that including those was natural to Christopher and created a more authentic narrative.

I found Haddon’s explorations as to why someone might groan when in distress, or need to hide away or need to have an order to life very moving and totally relatable. Christopher’s reactions to stress or trauma may be extreme by ‘average’ standards, but Haddon’s reasoning behind them was not only empathetic and thoughtful but made absolute sense to me. Most people feel anxious at some point or another and we all have ways of calming ourselves down – some more obvious than others. As someone who craves order and neatness when stressed, Christopher’s desire for patterns and logic when under duress seemed comeletly natural to me.

I found Christopher’s story funny, emotional and ultimately inspiring. He forces himself to do things he finds difficult in order to achieve things and that is something I’m sure we could all get much better at. An easy and very uplifting read – heartily recommended.

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