The Curious Trip into an Autistic Mind
by , , December 2, 2005
Carved out of the cover of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is the image of an upside-down, dead dog. This eccentric cover creates an eerie, anomalous setting for the murder mystery to come—a murder mystery solved by a child incapable of feeling human emotion.
Christopher Boone—a fifteen-year-old boy suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism— discovers a neighborhood dog lying dead on its side with a pitch fork jabbed through its middle. Being a lover of dogs, Christopher sets out to find the ruthless murderer. He records his investigation in a book of his own, which he calls, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”. With Christopher as the narrator, this novel allows the reader to step into the mind of someone who thinks and feels quite differently than the average person. How differently?
Christopher knows all the countries and the capitals in the world, every prime number up to 7,057, and how to calculate complicated math problems just by quickly thinking. In fact, when asked by one of his father’s friends what 251 times 864 is, Christopher writes, “I thought about this and I said, ‘216,864.’ Because it was a really easy sum because you just multiply 864 X 1,000, which is 864,000. Then you divide it by 4, which is 216,000, and that’s 250 X 864. Then you just add another 864 onto it to get 251 X 864. And that’s 216,864” (66). Christopher has a photographic memory and can remember every detail of every picture he sees. He cannot stand to be touched, and he detests certain colors. Haddon describes Christopher as a “character whom if you met him in real life you'd never, ever get inside his head. Yet something magical happens when you write a novel about him. You slip inside his head” (Powells).
In Christopher’s recording of his murder investigation, he begins to use his book as a journal in which he includes his perception on life. The reader feels trapped inside Christopher’s unemotional mind as he tells of his parents’ actions toward him and each other. His parents obviously separated because of the stress Christopher caused them. They resent his birth, yet love him. The reader sees all of this, but Christopher sees his parents as people, simply living. For example, when Christopher’s father loses his patience, he screams, “[. . .] if you do not behave I swear I shall knock the living daylights out of you” (47). Christopher does not get upset; he does not understand anger. Ironically and somewhat eerily, Christopher’s lack of emotion has a powerful way of reaching into the depths of the readers’ emotions. Regarding the novel’s effect on readers, Haddon says, “people have said to me that it's a desperately sad book and they wept most of the way through it” (Powells).
Although the murder mystery is a story in itself, hearing it from Christopher’s autistic mindset creates a whole other dimension. Having worked with autistic children as a young adult, Mark Haddon succeeds in bringing this scary, yet realistic ambience to the story. When describing that he once worked with autistic children, he explains that “they had [autism] much more seriously than Christopher does” (Powells). This novel helps remind the reader that there are autistic children out there exactly like Christopher, who cannot feel emotions. And, there are parents who deal with the difficulties of raising an autistic child like Christopher.
Even more than carrying the reader into a completely different and unfamiliar world, Haddon indirectly proposes thoughtful questions for the reader: Who defines normality? Who says autistic children are worse off than “normal” children? Are they? Are the parents wrong for deserting their autistic child? Can you blame them?
This novel is amazing. The New York Times explains it best when describing this story as “The Sound and the Fury crossed with The Catcher in the Rye and one of Oliver Sack’s real-life stories” (The New York Times). If you are searching for an easy-to-read, yet paranormal, powerful, and profound novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is your choice.
Kakutani, Michiko. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Math and Physics? A Cinch. People?
Incomprehensible.” The New York Times, June 2003. October 9, 2005.
Weich, Dave. “The Curiously Irresistible Literary Debut of Mark Haddon.” Powells.com,
June 2003. October 9, 2005. .
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