Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery...sort of.  The story is told by Christopher John Francis Boone, an autistic teenager who is mathematically adept and socially inept.  Unable to understand the intricacies of social interaction and such things as sarcasm, complex facial expressions, and body language, Christopher takes things at their literal face value.

Late one night he discovers the dead -impaled by a garden fork- body of his neighbor's dog, Wellington.  Christopher is soon found by the dog owner, cradling the dead canine and winds up being  arrested by the police for questioning.

Upon his release, Christopher decides to take after his literary hero, Sherlock Holmes, and discover who murdered poor Wellington.  Though his investigation is discouraged by his father and his neighbors, his special education teacher at school, Siobhan, encourages him to write a book about his investigation.  However, Chris' sleuthing leads him to discover some things about his parents he was never meant to know.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was meant to by my quick, easy-breezy post A Dance with Dragons read that provided quick, easy to digest entertainment, and refresh me after reading such a massive tome.  While The Curious Incident did all that, I was pleased, and a bit surprised to find that it did more.

The author, Mark Haddon does a fantastic job of portraying the unique mind and mannerisms of an autistic child.  Through Christopher's narrative voice you get a strong sense of who he is, and how he is driven by routine, order and predictability.  However, once he begins his investigation, his routine is shattered, and the ways he copes with and interprets events that unfold, which for most people would be emotional nut-shots, is fascinating, unique and interesting.

Without a doubt, Christopher is one of the most unique literary characters I've ever come across.  His personality, narrative voice and mannerisms are at once fascinating, and frustrating to read.  Christopher's literal, mathematical and logical approach to everything in life started to wear on me.  As I struggled to read a story from the point of view of a person who is so fundamentally different from me I came to understand how his father, and those around him also struggled to deal with, interact, and co-exist with Christopher.  That Haddon was able to pull all of this off is no small feat and quite the literary accomplishment.

However, since we see the people who populate Christopher's world only through his emotionless eyes, I found that the other characters didn't stand out or appear nearly as developed as Chris.  This caused me to visualize them mostly as empty vessels who occasionally spouted dialog, and mostly served as tools to show Christopher's uniqueness.

Christopher's mannerisms, which fall under the autism spectrum, often came across as oddities, and were used to make the novel funny and inject some lightness to what is a very emotional story.  I'm not so sure how I feel about this.  Special Education is the most prominent form of segregation in schools these days and special education students are often put in a position of "other" and made the butt of joke.  The fact that Christopher's eccentric behavior, which stems from his autism, is used to create jokes in the novel sort of rubs me the wrong way.  More than anything, it made my question my own perceptions of folks with developmental differences and whether or not my perceptions and assumptions are fair.

All told, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a unique and thought provoking novel.  This is one of those books that can be easily enjoyed by nearly anyone.  It was a great in-between novel to give me a little breathing space before I dive back into meatier stuff.  A solid non-genre book worth checking out.

Grade: B-

No comments: