The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

There is a lot of polarization in the reviews that I have read online regarding this book.  I actually thought quite a bit about what to say in my review.  This book was published in 2003 and written by Mark Haddon.

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions, Christopher is autistic. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing. Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.

The book is a short, quick read, I read it in one night. It is told from the point of view of Christopher, who is writing the “book” at the suggestion of one of his teachers at school. The concept of writing a novel is challenging and intriguing for him and I think the author, Haddon, successfully shows this.  There are a lot of things in this book I can understand. I was going to type “relate to,” but anyone can relate to things. I mean “understand.”  I think a lot of the negative reviews of this book come from people who absolutely cannot understand elements of the book or the character.  It is not the fault of the reader, I suppose, but every negative review almost ratifies the overarching concept of the book itself.

A reviewer named Chris on Goodreads had this to say:

First, by page twenty-five I was just sick of the all the words in bold and all the diagrams and illustrations. Yes, I understand that the story is told from the point of view of an autistic kid, it would be damned hard not to grasp that, but was it really necessary? Is this supposed to be representative of how autistic people think? Who the hell knows, but I personally found it annoying.

Honestly, I did not think the book was full of “bold, diagrams, illustrations.”  It had some, and the ones it did have did not impede the reading of the novel. Also, this statement is somewhat hypocritical because just as Christopher hates the colors brown and yellow, it seems the reviewer has a similar dislike for bold print. Furthermore, since this novel is supposed to be the writings of a 15 year old autistic kid, I think it makes perfect sense that (1.) Christopher is unsure what to include in his book; (2.) he uses a variety of items to describe and explain the story.  The same reviewer continues:

I’d have preferred something darker; an historical account of an autistic person prior to the recent mollycoddling. It seems like all I hear about these days are autistic kids, and I wonder why history isn’t choc full of anecdotal tales of their presence, where did they all come from? I can only speculate that prior to 1850, once a child displayed the symptoms of autism they were unceremoniously dragged to the nearest river and drowned, or smothered with hay. A story like that would be solid.

I do not wish to delve into the issues of autism in this blog. Therefore, I want to address the reviewer’s comments that he wanted something “darker.”  It is quite disturbing that the reviewer would actually rather have read some novel about the torture and killing of autistic people.  Indeed, such a story would be darker – but I have to disagree that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is itself not dark. Frankly, the big story is about miserable, immoral people. The parents of Christopher, while obviously stressed and frustrated with having an autistic child, are also nasty people.  The story starts off with a neighbor’s poodle being murdered by what I imagined to be a pitch fork.  That’s pretty gruesome. Ever killed an animal? With a pitch fork? Think about it for a minute – that’s a sick, twisted act. It isn’t until the latter half of the novel that we learn that it was Christopher’s father, Ed, who killed the dog. And why? Because the owner of the dog broke off her relationship with him. Actually, Ed’s wife ran off with the dog owner’s ex-husband, Roger. So, basically, four adults all having an affair with each other and having miserable relationships. If that is not enough (and I truly think it is), Ed tells Christopher that his mother is dead rather than telling him that she ran off with Roger. I don’t care if a kid is autistic or not, that’s a mighty cruel thing to do.  The only reason that Ed lied is because he did not want to deal with the fallout from Christopher and he felt that because Christopher is autistic, he could get away with the lie. Suffice to say, this story is very dark from a moral aspect.

Another reviewer named Jen Terpstra writes:

I’m smart, I’m educated. I’m a professional woman who adores literature and loves to read. I bought this book because I was told that it was GREAT by a couple of friends. I’d also read the reviews.  Ack. It took me a full month to get through this book. This from someone who can devour a book in twelve hours. I didn’t like it. I didn’t find it “lyrical” I didn’t find the writing in ANY way “superior” to some of the “genre” authors I read (Nora Roberts anyone?). It left me depressed and out of sorts. And a little pissed off.

I agree with this reviewer in a sense:  this book is decidedly not “heartwarming” or “lyrical,” nor do I think it should be lauded as a great classic.  It was a short novel about some ugly folk. I do not understand why it would take an “educated, professional woman” a full month to read it, though. Does Haddon make “stereotypical” errors about autism in order to sell his book on a gimmick?  I don’t think so. The book is fiction – it is not a medical book. Also, I do not believe (though I might be mistaken) that the word “autism” appears anywhere in the text. So, the error of stereotyping actually comes from the reader drawing their own conclusions based on preconceived notions. And frankly, if a novel can affect a reader in that way – to draw out such response – it must have something good about it.

I think one of the concepts that is lost on many readers is that they are fixated on how hard it is to deal with an autistic person.  But the point of the story is that we are being shown how trying and difficult it can be for an autistic person to deal with non-autistic people.

“That was because when I was little I didn’t understand about other people having minds.” – pg. 116, chapter 163.

3 stars

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