Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Top 100 #44)

By Mark Haddon

Five Things I Liked About The Curious Incident:
1. Christopher
2. Hidden letters
3. Hot strawberry milkshakes
4. White noise
5. Palm-to-palm hugging

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has been for years one of those books I’m aware of but never been quite intrigued enough by to buy or read. But recently I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, perhaps the most impressive being my brother’s recommendation. He’s not known for being a big reader, and what he does read tends more toward fantasy than literary fiction. So, needless to say, when I heard he enjoyed this book my curiosity was spiked. Then I found a wonderful used copy at a book sale* in my town a couple weeks ago – perfectly worn to floppy softness without being broken or ratty – and it jumped to the top of my To Read list (now a To Read pile, thanks to that book sale!). After all, it's not often that my brother and I overlap in reading material!

Have you ever read a book with an autistic narrator/protagonist before? No? Me neither. Until now. Christopher is 15 years old (though it's easy to forget and start thinking of him as much younger), hates the colors yellow and brown, being touched, and speaking with or being surrounded by strangers, likes hot strawberry milkshakes, can calculate the powers of 2 out to 245 in his head, wanders the streets in the wee hours of the night when he can’t sleep, takes everything literally, and is relentlessly logical – though not always in a way that seems logical to us. Christopher lives alone with his father, under the impression that his mother died some time ago of a sudden heart attack. One night, Christopher discovers his neighbor’s dog – Wellington – murdered in the garden with a fork. This curious incident spurs Christopher to embark on an investigation in the style of Sherlock Holmes (his literary idol and kindred spirit, both possessing powers of observation far beyond the norm) in which he uncovers not only a canine killer, but a network of cracks in his carefully organized life that threaten to cave under pressure and overwhelm him with an inundation of reality.

The power of Haddon’s writing is entirely in the construction of Christopher’s voice. Although Christopher’s story is a somewhat sad one, Haddon doesn’t make the mistake of confusing empathy with pity. You don’t need to be autistic to identify with Christopher. His neuroses are, of course, more severe than the average person’s, but we all have irrational fears, things that make us lose our cool, things that cause us angst. (My current thing is wasps… I feel vulnerable to stealth attacks and dive-bombs whenever I venture outdoors.)

Furthermore, seeing the world through Christopher’s eyes is some of the most convincing evidence to support the suggestion that we only ever use a small percentage of our brain, because it seems that for anyone to have such powers of intellect they must be working with a more powerful mental machine than the rest of us. And speaking from personal experience, I can vouch that the portrayal of Christopher’s mental capabilities seems pretty accurate to me, not an exaggeration at all. That being said, Christopher’s intelligence is as much a handicap as it is a blessing, preventing him from viewing the world in any terms other than black and white, right and wrong, yes and no.

I love this quote from the Goodreads summary: “Herein lies the key to the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion.” The result is a poignant, unique, and resonant novel as enjoyable for adults as teens, and for literary as non-literary readers (my brother being case in point). It's also a really quick read, so... you have no excuse.

*Calling that event a book sale is like calling The Strand a bookstore – technically true, but it doesn’t begin to cover it. Picture an ice rink. Now fill it with tables. Now strew those tables with piles of books. Now add more books stacked in boxes beneath the tables. Now put $1-3 price tags on each book. Now add a “All items half-off” sign to the door of the rink. Boggles the imagination, doesn’t it? If it hadn’t been so chilly, I’d have thought I was in heaven. 

Books Read This Year: 45
Top 100 Progress: 44/100

1 comment:

  1. This book was enjoyable and I really liked the perspective of the author. This book is all about a boy and his everyday life and experiences when suddenly he's given life altering information that shakes his world.