the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

I’m always a little late because I get most of my books from the library or the used bookstore. So I’m just now reading this book, published in 2003, that I remember lots of bloggers talking about last year. To add to the acclamation, I thought it was wonderful.

If you’ve never read the book or read about the book, it’s the story of Christopher John Francis Boone, age 15 years, 3 months, and 2 days, who decides to investigate the death under mysterious circumstances of a dog named Wellington. Christopher knows a lot of things —the names of all the countries of the world and their capitals, every prime number up to 7057, and the steps to take in detecting a crime ala Sherlock Holmes; however, he also knows that there many things he doesn’t understand —how to read the expressions on people’s faces, metaphors, and belief in the supernatural, to name a few. Christopher is autistic, and his autism causes him to observe things that other people don’t notice. It also causes him to discount things that can’t be explained logically. He’s good at math, bad at relationships.

In one part of his book, written in first person from Christopher’s point of view, Christopher discusses how he likes Sherlock Holmes, but dislikes Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He dislikes Doyle because Doyle became interested in the supernatural, particularly seances and ghosts, after the death of his son in World War II. As I read, I was left with a picture of a boy who likes Sherlock Holmes because he’s safe and predictable, because he follows the logic of the fictional detective, but can’t stand the writer who made Sherlock Holmes because Doyle is more complicated and believes in things outside the conventions of fiction. Christopher is a boy who is limited by a quirk of the mind, although quite intelligent, limited to his “maths” and his science and his safe home and his strict version of literal truth.

And, for example, some people say how can an eye happen by accident? Because an eye has to evolve from something else very like an eye and it doesn’t just happen because of a genetic mistake, and what is the use of half an eye? But half an eye is very useful because half an eye means that an animal can see half of an animal that wants to eat it and get out of the way, and it will eat that animal that only has a third of an eye or 49% of an eye instead because it hsn’t got out of the way quick enough, and the animal that is eaten won’t have babies because it is dead. And 1% of an eye is better than no eye.

So, the ever logical Christopher reduces Irreducible Complexity to nonsense. Except, of course, Christopher’s explanation is itself nonsense. Half of an eye isn’t useful at all, and 1% of an eye is not better than no eye. If I have only a few rods and cones floating about with no cornea or retina or nerves leading to the brain or whatever, I have nothing. Such a thing would never evolve. And Christopher’s superior intelligence combined with an autism that causes him to miss out on many of the skills he needs to survive in human society is not an evolutonary adaptation that will make him more likely to survive and reproduce, but rather a seriously tragic handicap that requires the help of others and the bravery and resourcefulness of Christopher himself for him to transcend his own blindness and be able to live a real, connected life.

Christopher doesn’t believe in God, but his flawed, but loving parents and other people who help him to survive the journey that he embarks upon demonstrate the truth that God believes in Christopher and has provided a way for him to survive and even thrive in spite of his limitations. I wanted to quote to Christopher many times over the course of the story, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I really enjoyed the way author Mark Haddon was able to climb inside the mind of a high-functioning autistic young adult and present his thoughts to the reader. I don’t know if the book accurately portrays the thoughts and attitudes of an autistic person, but it feels right, and I liked Christopher in spite of his somewhat self-centered outlook on life. I wonder if Mr. Haddon knows someone or is close to someone who is autistic?

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time is short, thoughtful, and absorbing. It’s hopeful without being unrealistic about the problems facing both those with autism and their care-givers.

7 thoughts on “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

  1. Thanks for the review! I’ll add this one to my List of To-Be-Reads.

  2. zia

    I thought it was good, but liked Elizabeth Moon’s novel The Speed of Dark even better. It was incredibly powerful

  3. I read a review a while ago that said that Haddon worked with people (my unreliable memory says…teens?) with autism. I enjoyed the book when I read it.

    Now I’ll have to look up The Speed of Dark. I need more books on my reading wish list. Ha ha ha.

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