They say never to judge a book by its cover, but with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, that is exactly what I did. Sorry, folks, but I simply could not resist the orange cover with the cut out image of an upside-down dog. I thought to myself, “If that novel is anywhere near as interesting as the cover, I’ll have spent my money well.” Guess what? I did.
Simply reading the back cover of this book, I had a fairly good idea of what to expect, or so I thought. Well, my friends, I was wrong. Our protagonist, Christopher, according to the back of the book, decides to investigate the murder of a neighborhood dog. Oh, and he knows every country’s capital in the world and all the prime numbers up to 7, 057. Oh, and he hates anything involving the color yellow. Oh, and he can’t tolerate being physically touched. You would think I would have been smart enough to figure it out. I wasn’t. Christopher is autistic.
Suddenly, the book took on a whole new dimension. I don’t know anything about autism beyond what I learned in Rain Man, and no matter how much I love that movie, I know that Hoffman’s character was only a glimmer into the world of autism. I was very excited when I found out that the author, Mark Haddon, had worked with autistics quite a bit as a younger man. I really trusted him to give me an accurate depiction of this world I knew nothing about.
Well, I still don’t know how accurate his depiction was, but I do have to admit that it made for fascinating reading. While the murder of the neighborhood dog is an interesting concept, it was made even more so by using the unique perspective of Christopher. You must understand that Christopher doesn’t think the way that we think. Christopher doesn’t experience emotion the way we experience emotion. Having said this, however, this book proves that Christopher is not so different from us at all.
Christopher takes us for a very interesting journey as he deals with real life issues in a manner that we, surprisingly, can relate to quite easily. Granted, the specifics of how he deals with them are unusual; for instance, I don’t believe that most of us will run through all of the prime numbers we possibly can in order to calm ourselves, nor do I believe that most of us determine what sort of day we will have by the number of red cars we see in the morning. We all experience fear, loss, and disappointment, however, and those are some of the unifying experiences of being a human being. I’m really afraid I can’t tell you much more about the book without spoiling virtually everything, but you’ll have to take my word when I say there are some really interesting, and unexpected, developments.
Okay, so let’s talk about style. When you’re writing from the perspective of a character that is not likely to express emotion in a forthcoming manner, there tends to be a lack of emotional punch. Instead, the author presents his character in such a fashion that it is quite easy to empathize with his situation, if not with the character himself. Meaning, we may not understand his thought processes, but we certainly do understand how WE would feel if put in his situation. We think about how we would react, and then we read how he reacts.
There are many, many, many digressions as our protagonist stops to delve into all sorts of explanations on math problems, science lessons, as well as present many diagrams aiding in their depiction. Happily, these are not speed bumps in the story, although it may sound otherwise. Rather, as already stated, the whole book features the perspective of a boy who is autistic and the book must be true to that perspective at all times. The fact is-that is the way he thinks! To expect a tone other than what it being presented in the novel is quite unreasonable.
So, I would recommend that you read this novel. It is a captivating study in character and style, and also quite informative. It is atypical in almost every manner, and for me, that’s a great experience. And seriously, don’t you want to know who murdered the dog? It’s not who you would expect.