Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I have stewed for days on what to write about this book. Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" has the very unique literary device of being written from the first-person perspective of an autistic 15-year-old boy. Christopher lives in Swindon, which is near London, with his father and pet rat, Toby. He goes to a "special needs" school, has a photographic memory, is exceptionally talented at math and is unable to tell lies. He hates crowds, cannot interpret human behavior, doesn't tolerate being touched (even by his parents), hates the colors yellow and brown, and tends to groan loudly when upset or overwhelmed by noise.

One night, Christopher discovers the neighbor's dog with a pitch fork through it. Nobody seems interested in finding out who did it, but to Christopher it's murder and it needs to be figured out. He starts doing some detecting and starts to unravel a bigger mystery than just the dog. Christopher loves Sherlock Holmes and uses some of his techniques to figure out the mystery.

I've searched my brain trying to figure out how to describe this book that doesn't sound insensitive. "Fascinating" seems so wrong to say when there are so many people who live with autism everyday. My entertainment is their reality. Something I kept wondering while I read the book is whether Christopher really had autism. I don't know much, but I thought that autism makes it really hard to communicate and Christopher communicates very well. Lots of what goes on in the book points to Aspergers syndrome, but he does have lots of autistic tendencies too. Autism is a pretty broad spectrum, so he probably falls on there somewhere. Not once in the book does he say what his condition is, just talks about his habits, his sensitivities, etc. The reader is left to figure it out.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the way it's told from Christopher's perspective. How he copes, what's going on in his mind, things like that. I suspect that many parents of children like him wished they had that same access to their child's thoughts. He talks about how he cannot filter out information. If he's in a room full of people, he notices every single detail about everything and it's overwhelming to him. That's why he screams or groans, to drown out the stimulus. I don't know if all kids like him are self-aware enough to know that's why they get upset, but Haddon has enough experience with autistic individuals that he understands how and why.

It's a good read. Very interesting, a good mystery and pretty suspenseful when Christopher decides to take off for London on his own. There's a smattering of profanity, but instead of being graphic, you feel like Christopher is recording exactly what he hears. He can't help but remember it perfectly and that's how it was said. Read it with the intent of understanding autism a little more than you did before.


  1. I'm "fascinated" by autism. I added the quotation marks because I, too, don't mean to be insensitive. I have a close friend who worked with kids with autism for many years and two other friends who have children with Asperger's. One of those children is now on a modified mission (he lives at home) and the other child is finishing kindergarten. I watch these amazing women as they struggle to understand their children and the difficulties they face. I interact with these amazing kids and I'm blown away when I get to see part of the way they grapple with the world at large. And I want to know more. The brain is such a complex thing and there's so much we can learn from this disorder. Who's to say that we couldn't all use a break from the "noise" that constantly surrounds us in life? and that people with autism who groan at overstimulation are just truer to their emotions and needs than those of us who have learned social cues and can "cover" up our true feelings?

  2. I loved this book, partly because it is unlike any other book I've read. And my mom gave it to me and told me to start reading it without reading the back or the notes on the author, so when I read it it took some time to figure out that the narrator was autistic. I thought it was a very interesting insight into the mind of an autistic child. And the mystery is pretty fascinating, too.