The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon Book Review

I have to admit, I only bought this book because one of my friends was raving how amazing the theatre production was.  I never really wanted to read a book where a dog dies. I was traumatized enough after I am Legend * Robert Matheson but after a small research online, I was impressed on how well the book did.

The book received praise from outlets like the New York Times and from noted authors including Ian McEwan. To date, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has been published in more than thirty-five countries and has become an international best seller. In the United Kingdom, Haddon’s book has sold more than 2.6 million copies, making it the third best-selling book of the decade.

And after the first few pages, I was hooked. We were dealing here with a new type of hero. One that liked prime numbers, liked maths, did not get metaphors and was generally hell bent on finding who murdered a neighbour’s dog.

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As I read on, Christopher, the 15-year old main character appeared to be autistic, or with serious behavioural problems. He may be gifted, but was unable to process human emotions. He had drawn the emotions like happy or sad or angry on little pieces of paper and would lift them up against a person’s face to figure out what they were feeling.

Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can means lots of different things. It can mean ‘I want to do sex with you’ and it can also mean ‘I think what you just said was very stupid.

The book jacket described Christopher as suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, but Haddon told the Hay Festival audience in 2012 that he had never specified any disorder and was uncomfortable with the book’s status as a handbook for autistic spectrum disorders.

The Story

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time takes place in the year 1998 in and around the town of Swindon, England. The fifteen-year-old narrator of the story, Christopher John Francis Boone, discovers the slain body of his neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, on the neighbor’s front lawn one evening and sets out to uncover the murderer because he loves dogs and he likes a good detective story.

I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk.

After Christopher hits a policeman in a misunderstanding at the scene of the crime, the police take Christopher into custody. They release Christopher with only a stern warning, under the condition that he promises to them and to his father not to look into the murder any further.

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Christopher decides to use a school assignment as a motive to continue his investigation and write a good detective story. This is the book I was reading. As he is talking (/writing), we find out that he has learning difficulties and that he goes to a special needs school.

Everyone has learning difficulties, because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult.

We see glimpses of himself as he talks about his colleagues, his friends and enemies and in short passages we get to see the meaning of life as he sees it.

And when you look at the sky you know you are looking at stars which are hundreds and thousands of light-years away from you. And some of the stars don’t even exist anymore because their light has taken so long to get to us that they are already dead, or they have exploded and collapsed into red dwarfs. And that makes you seem very small, and if you have difficult things in you life it is nice to think that they are what is called negligible, which means they are so small you don’t have to take them into account when you are calculating something.

Christopher ignores the repeated warnings from his father, and decides to investigate the crime scene and conduct interviews with the residents of his block. It’s difficult as he can’t look people in the face and is not a very social person to begin with.

I find people confusing.

He uncovers a more tangled plot than was first apparent when he discovers that his father and the owner of the slain dog, Mrs. Shears, had a romantic affair. He subsequently learns that their affair began in reaction to another relationship, one carried on between Mr. Shears and Christopher’s mother, before she disappeared from Christopher’s life. Christopher was told that she was in a hospital and that she was in a really bad state and that his dad would go and see her there and bring food from home. As the story unfolds, this might not be a hard-known truth anymore..

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…and I went into the garden and lay down and looked at the stars in the sky and made myself negligible.

At school, Christopher prepares for an A-level math exam that will enable him to attend a university, a feat no other child at his school has managed. He also continues to work on his book. Upon returning home one afternoon, Christopher accidentally leaves his book in plain view on the kitchen table. His father reads it, becomes angry, and confiscates it.

Sometimes we get sad about things and we don’t like to tell other people that we are sad about them. We like to keep it a secret. Or sometimes, we are sad but we really don’t know why we are sad, so we say we aren’t sad but we really are.

968-0591-1024x682.jpgLater, Christopher searches for the book and uncovers a series of letters, hidden in a shirt box in his father’s closet, addressed to him from his supposedly dead mother. The letters chronicle a life that his mother has continued to lead with Mr. Shears in London and contain repeated requests for Christopher to respond.

A lie is when you say something happened which didn’t happen. But there is only ever one thing which happened at a particular time and a particular place. And there are an infinite number of things which didn’t happen at that time and that place. And if I think about something which didn’t happen I start thinking about all the other things which didn’t happen.

In shock, Christopher passes out in his bedroom surrounded by the evidence of his father’s deception. When Father comes home and realizes what has happened, he breaks down in tears. He apologizes for his lies, explaining that he acted out of a desire to protect Christopher from the knowledge of his mother’s abandonment of the family.

People say that you always have to tell the truth. But they do not mean this because you are not allowed to tell old people that they are old and you are not allowed to tell people if they smell funny or if a grown-up has made a fart. And you are not allowed to say, ‘I don’t like you,’ unless that person has been horrible to you

Christopher’s father also admits to killing Wellington after an argument with Mrs. Shears, his lover.

“And Father said, “Christopher, do you understand that I love you?”
And I said “Yes,” because loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth, and Father looks after me when I get into trouble, like coming to the police station, and he looks after me by cooking meals for me, and he always tells me the truth, which means that he loves me.”

the_curious_incident_of_the_dog_in_the_night_time_production_still.jpgChristopher, now terrified of his father and feeling he can no longer trust him, sneaks out of the house and travels to London to live with his mother. During a harrowing journey, he copes with and overcomes the social fears and limitations of his condition, dodges police, and almost gets hit by a train.

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His arrival at his mother’s flat comes as a total surprise to her, as she had no idea that Christopher’s father had been withholding her letters. Christopher settles in for a time at his mother and Mr. Shears’s flat, but friction caused by his presence shortly results in his mother’s decision to leave Mr. Shears to return to Swindon.

Usually people look at you when they’re talking to you. I know that they’re working out what I’m thinking, but I can’t tell what they’re thinking. It is like being in a room with a one-way mirror in a spy film

Christopher moves into a new apartment with his mother and begins to receive regular visits from his father.

rmtc-s-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time.jpgWhen Christopher’s pet rat Toby dies, Christopher’s father gives Christopher a puppy. At school, Christopher sits for his A-level math exam and receives an A grade, the best possible score.

The novel ends with Christopher planning to take more A-level exams in physics and further math, and then attend a university in another town.

And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery…and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.

The book is being made into a film by David Heyman and Steve Kloves, the producer and screenwriter behind the Harry Potter franchise.

About the Author

Mark-HaddonW Mark Haddon was born in Northampton, England, in 1962. He graduated from Merton College, Oxford, in 1981, and later returned to his studies at Edinburgh University, where he received a Master’s degree in English Literature. After school, Haddon took a number of odd jobs, including one working with children who had physical and mental disabilities, including autism. He also worked as an illustrator and cartoonist, contributing to a number of prominent British publications. In 1987, Haddon published his first book, Gilbert’s Gobstopper, about a piece of candy that, over the course of fifty years, gets bounced around the world until it returns to Gilbert, the boy that dropped it (he is an old man by the time it returns). Haddon followed with more than a dozen works for children over the years, many of which he also illustrated, and became involved in writing for children’s television. For the British children’s show, Microsoap, in particular, Haddon won multiple awards, including the Royal Television Society’s honor for Best Children’s Drama.

 

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