Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

I cant remember who gave me this book, or if I bought it myself, but I read it for the first time more than a year ago. It was a short book and easy to get through so I decided to pick it up again last week. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ is a unique murder mystery told from the point of view of Christopher Boone, a 15 year-old autistic boy. Therein I believe lies the authors first challenge. Some of my favorite books have been narrated by kids, like ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ both of which are now timeless classics. Whereas Salinger used the sharp words of an edgy frustrated young man, and Harper relied upon southern charm combined with the rough finish of a very young tom-boy (with a magnificent vocabulary) growing up in the US, Haddon has probably selected the most challenging character of the 3.

Autistic children are generally very reserved, quiet, and tend to view the people and situations around them in a 2 dimensional manner. I presume Haddon spent a significant amount of time studying several cases before putting pen to paper, or rather fingertip to keypad. Chris, a young mathematical savant, from the offset of the novel is out to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. And the beauty of Haddon’s writing in my opinion is how he keeps his main character focused on that mission while he unravels a number of troublesome issues around Chris, without betraying the nature of his character. He does not offer vivid descriptions of how Chris’s parent’s may have suffered because of his handicap but rather allows his character to recount instances from his own point of view where they were obviously driven half mad by his actions, but he shows no real regret or even recognition of his fault because he is incapable of viewing the situation in that manner. I found this style very clever and also quite interesting.

Writing from the point of view of an autistic child also limits the amount of adjectives or descriptive writing an author can use. I would not say the author has worked around this aspect but rather utilized it to create a more characteristic and unique novel. The pages of this short masterpiece are sprinkled with an array of diagrams, sketches, and maps that Chris uses to describe things. He is a mathematical genius so many of these diagrams went way beyond my understanding. He describes numerical games he plays in his head to block out the outside world when things get stressful. These are passages I find absolutely magical. You can imagine how frustrating it would be walking a child through the mall and suddenly he drops to the floor pressing his face against the cold tiles while he screams at a steady pace on the top of his lungs. People would crowd around you asking what is wrong with the child and the more you try to touch or move the child, the more frustrated he would get. Scenes like this are madness to you and me but for Chris they are soothing and tranquil as he escapes into his mind. I love the way Haddon transgresses that emotion of calm despite of what may be going on outside Chris’s head, all the while being fully conscious of what is going on.

'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' comes off on the surface as a story about solving the murder of the neighbor’s poodle, but ends up being so much more without the pretention. Chris ultimately solves the murder and completes his book, meanwhile giving us a glimpse into not only his life but also the lives of the people connected to him. The beauty of it all is that the author shares the other stories and emotions with the reader through the restricted communication skills of a 15 year old autistic savant. If you are looking for a book that spins a fantastic tale, I would not recommend this book, but if you are up for something totally out of the box in terms of approach to storytelling or writing, you need not go any further.

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