The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003)

by Mark Haddon

You've probably never read a novel quite like this. It's a first-person narrative by a 15-year-old with a form of autism. Characteristic of his disability, Christopher Boone lacks social skills, yet the remarkable achievement of author Mark Haddon is to make Christopher an appealing companion. Christopher instructs us in his many interests — including prime numbers, puzzles, Sherlock Holmes, and anything scientific — while letting us in on how his mind works. He not only helps us understand "different" behavior but also shows us that "normal" can seem pretty strange when observed literally. (What sense is there in saying "laughed my socks off" and "skeleton in the cupboard"? Why do grownups admonish you to tell the truth and then reprimand you for saying so-and-so smells funny?) The organization of the book is charmingly helter-skelter, as Christopher moves between the present and the past and lessons about his interests that include his illustrations along with words.

The plot is set in motion by Christopher's finding a neighbor's dog with a garden fork through its middle. Despite his difficulties interacting, Christopher decides to investigate the mystery and find the dog's killer. His investigation leads to discoveries about his father, a heating repairman with whom he lives 100 miles from London, and his mother, whom he's believed dead.

Haddon never identified Christopher's disability by name in the book, but in a published interview, he called it Asperger's syndrome. Asperger's is on the mild end of the autism spectrum; Haddon, who once worked with autistic people, is writing from some experience. As Christopher describes his own responses, we learn about characteristics of Asperger's: Christopher doesn't like to be touched; can't decipher facial expressions or understand jokes; hates change; fears new places, people, and experiences; is literal; has an honesty that verges on rudeness.

Students with Asperger's are often very bright, and Christopher soars above the intellectual level of the school he attends for special students. In fact, he's a math wizard aiming to pass his math A-levels so he can go to college. By the end of the book, Christopher has accomplished that and solved more than one mystery, gaining the courage to believe "I can do anything."


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