Wednesday, May 23, 2012

166. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Vintage, 2003*; 226) is a curious and fantastic book in its approach, vision, and perspectives. It is a bold indicator of the vastness of the novel landscape and how tiny the portion we have explored in this land; after all, it isn't for nothing that the world 'novel' also means 'fresh', 'new', 'refreshing' as all these three superlatives will accurately describe what Haddon has done with this book.

The book is unique on several fronts: as a detective story, and like all detective stories, the protagonist is investigating a murder; however, the murdered is not a chief executive who had double-dealings, nor is it a child who had early on been molested. It is also not a woman who had divorced her husband or jilted a boyfriend. In this novel, the protagonist - Christopher John Francis Boone - is investigating the death of Wellington, a neighbour's dog. And Christopher is fifteen and autistic.

One morning Christopher saw Wellington with a garden fork stuck into it. He raised the dog and approached Mrs Shears whose dog is Wellington. A misunderstanding ensued and Mrs Shears called the police. Christopher, as an autistic, doesn't want to be touched. He detested it and when the policeman, during questioning, touched him, Christopher punched him. He was taken into custody, not formally charged because Mrs Shears would not press charges and was bailed by his irate father. This was when Christopher decided to find out who killed Mrs Shears dog.

It is this investigation that will test the relationship between father and son and the strength of their love and the meaning of trust. It also brings to fore the nature of the autistic disease and how families had to work together to help the individual. Judy had left the family. Ed had told Christopher that his mother was dead. When Ed seized Christopher's 'detective' book and he set out to look for it, he also found a series of letters from his mother addressed to him. There were several of these letters, and their contents revealed why she left the family with Mr Shears and how she couldn't support him with his condition. It was clear that Judy was fed up, did not understand Christopher's conditions and was too quick-tempered to learn to adjust. But Ed has also committed a heinous crime, for as an autistic, Christopher takes things on their surface values: he hates metaphors and insinuations. He expects questions to be answered as they are asked and not in a circumlocutory manner. Consequently, he hates lies and speaks only the truth. He also hates strangers because he has to learn to trust them to be friends with them. And when Ed, in whom Christopher had entrusted his trust, broke it in such a gargantuan manner, Christopher was let down. Ed, in an attempt to placate his son and show how honest he was going to be confessed to the one bigger sin that would push Christopher, a boy whose understanding is limited, to run away from home, with his rat Toby as his only companion, and go in search of his mother, whilst outwitting those policemen who were looking for him. The problem is, his mother had moved to London and in such large cities, people are bound to touch you or give you indirect answers. But his fear of his father was so strong that he braced the unknown world to the one he knew. Falling ill from information overload, hunger and cold, Christopher would finally find his mother but how would his mother who had eloped with a neighbour's husband to escape the burden she thought Christopher was? and how would Mr Shears take this intrusion?

Soon after reaching London, Christopher wanted to come back to Swindon so that he could write his A-Level, one goal he had set himself to achieving and for which he had prepared for the past year. Her mother would be dismissed from work, when she missed two days of work to cater for Christopher and that began the destabilisation in what Mr Shears and Judy thought were a stable union they had created. Judy would also make the mistake to reschedule Christopher's A-Level exams to next year and that would create a silent rift between the two.

Written in chapters of prime numbers The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a story within a story and through this story Christopher tells of a certain period of his life. Written in the first person narrative, the story provides several laterals and diversions that explore the minds of autistic children or people with the Asperger's syndrome. Though Christopher thinks logically and loves puzzles and mathematics, and is working towards his A-Level exams, he still defines his good day, super good day or bad day by the number of red or yellow cars he sees in a row. He still cannot stand to be touched and could throw tantrums at any time. But he has a good memory and draws maps of places he has been with ease.

An interesting book worth the read.

10 comments:

  1. I found he got the main character so right in this book having worked for twenty years with people with similar forms of autism he catched how they view things really well ,all the best stu

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    1. this is a good book that all should read to appreciate this problem and learn how to deal with it.

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  2. What a wonderfully comprehensive and thoughtful review! I loved this book as well, and it remains on my favorites shelf, and is not allowed to be lent out to anyone! You capture so much of what this book really deals with with sensitivity and compassion. I thoroughly loved this review, Nana. Thanks!

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    1. The book really brings out a lot: the mother's emotions and incapability of handling her son, the father's mistake of deceit and therefore non-trust... it's a difficult story.

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  3. One of my favourite books too, like Zibilee. The way he built the story from the view point of Christopher is fascinating. Loved this book.

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    1. It takes an excellent writer to handle a story like this.

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  4. A fine and indepth review. Indeed, autism is an area not much explored in Ghana in that most are not aware of the condition much less how to cope. I do know that there is an autism centre at Adabraka.

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    1. It's how we classify them. We attribute them to the devil. And I wish we'll read more about them. Didn't know there is a centre at Adabraka. Thanks for the info.

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  5. Christopher's point of view helped me to vicariously experience how my ASD student perceptions of a given situation might differ from those of their non spectrum peers. I liked the book...It's always enlightening and humbling to see the world from another's pov.

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    1. The book teaches a lot. I got this through geosi

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