Book Review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By: Randolph Giudice
Oahu Island News

At first glance, Christopher Boone, the 15-year-old autistic savant who narrates Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” doesn’t seem cut out to be a master sleuth. He shuns physical contact, judges a “Super Good Day” by the color and sequence of cars he sees from the school bus and creates rigorous mathematical equations in his head to battle stimulus in unfamiliar situations. But like his favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher notices everything. He has a photographic memory, is brilliant at math and while lacking an eye for motive, he has a candor that makes him one of the most intriguing characters in fiction today.

Christopher is the epitome of autism: a “developmental disorder characterized by impaired communication, extreme self-absorption, and detachment from reality,” according to Webster’s dictionary. His happiest daydreams are about solitude, sitting in a capsule, adrift in outer space, away from every soul on Earth. How, you might ask, can such a person solve a murder case?

Luckily, fate takes a hand. Like any good mystery novel, Haddon’s story begins with the Christopher discovering his neighbor’s murdered dog. It proves an irresistible enticement of Christopher’s need to solve puzzles. So Christopher embarks on an investigation that takes him from Swindon to London – a journey that might as well be from the Earth to the Moon for an autistic teenager. Witnessing Christopher negotiating the simple obstacles of daily life, from purchasing a train ticket to getting directions from strangers, feels as suspenseful as a chase on an English moor.

As Christopher observes his surroundings, we can’t help but be moved by the uncanny simplicity with which he puts things into perspective. It’s as if a secret panel, commonplace to all those Victorian mystery novels, has suddenly opened and shed light on a part of the world we’ve taken for granted. But while the identity of the murderer is eventually discovered, Christopher Boone sadly remains an unsolved mystery.

Before I finished this review, the lights suddenly winked out in New York and most of the East Coast. With no electricity and little to do, I found an interesting activity to occupy my time: I compiled a short list of things Christopher might like about power outages. Here are just a few items:

1. All the lights are off, which means there is no light pollution. I can see lots of stars. If I look in one place in the sky and put my hands over my ears, I can pretend I’m alone in outer space.

2. I can’t see anybody.

3. Nobody can see me.

Such diversions tell me that Christopher will remain in my memory
for a long time. But I have to admit, like most people who will read Mark Haddon’s novel, I mostly daydream about being Christopher’s dad, engaging him in some meaningful conversation.

I fear that would be rather one-sided. When Christopher’s father stretches out his hand to make the only intimate contact his son will allow him, it is a heartbreaking moment. Christopher doesn’t seem to feel any tenderness. It’s just another fact in his ongoing investigation: “We do this because sometimes Father wants to give me a hug, but I do not like hugging people so we do this instead, and it means that he loves me.” For those who desire affection from Christopher, his Mom, his Dad, his instructor Siobhan at his school, the case is far from closed.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon, Random House, July 2003, 226 pages, ISBN 0385512104.