Monday, April 26, 2021

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

Just stop reading now and go buy this book. You would have to be the most distant of social outliers to dislike this novel. Sure, as with any novel, there may be a specific thing here, or a detail there you dislike. But otherwise, the voice, the sentiment, the story, the sheer humanity of Mark Haddon’s bittersweet little novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) are something any conscientious person living in the 21st century will get sucked into, their heart lifted high and brought low every step of the way.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of a volatile couple of months in the life of young Christopher Boone. A teen with autism, Boone is an extremely logical thinker for whom mathematics and physics come easy, but most everything else in life—relationships, society, contact with people, etc.—not so much. The emotions within himself cold and distant, Boone approaches life systematically with the facts of what he is presented, but can quickly be triggered to physical violence if any part of his carefully constructed world is disrupted by others. Discovering his neighbor’s dog stabbed to death with a garden rake in the opening chapter, Boone sets about solving the mystery of the killing with a logical, Sherlock Holmes-esque approach—his favorite detective, natch. What he discovers in the course of his detecting turns his world upside down.

Beating with thick, rich blood, The Curious Incident grabs the reader and won’t let go. By turns a heartbreaking and uplifting little novel, its bittersweet pages turn with the pain of ignorance and understanding—the former for Boone’s attempts at adapting to a world entirely foreign to him, and the latter from the reader’s perspective as they feel his pain, and at attempts at being ‘normal’. Knowing the backdrop to his story is a domestic reality millions of people experience everyday only makes the stakes more real.

My mother was a social worker who cared for two autistic boys for various periods in her life. As most people are aware, autism has an extremely broad spectrum. That being said, one of the boys (Robbie, wherever you are, hope you’re doing well!) bore a lot in common with Boone. The stilted view to reality, the quickness to physical aggression, the innocent attempts at fitting in—all these brought me back. I don’t know if Haddon is a social worker himself, or has experience with the disorder, but the voice with which he brings Boone to life feels extraordinarily spot on. He literally puts the reader in the teen’s shoes, showing them what life might be like as an outsider with limited ability to comprehend how or why they are different.

Being an outsider inevitably brings conflict, and The Curious Incident handles this as organically as birth and death. Not only is Boone’s attempts to conflate what he sees with what he’s told an extremely troublesome matter, but so too is his parents’ attempt at having a normal life. While dramatic indeed, it never feels maudlin, or dramatic just for sales. Boone's situation is real, something which the reader feels every page of their journey with him.

In the end, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a novel that will touch places, emotionally and rationally, inside readers that most books are unable to. Christopher Boone’s story will have readers worrying, lamenting, wondering, tearing up, and smiling—a spectrum of feelings arising from their understanding of the troubles he and his parents face, and how they relate to the world we live in, for better and worse. The greatest compliment to the novel is that Haddon makes the reader feel these ways through natural story. Melodrama simply not part of the equation, it’s the mastery of making a reader feel something for a character whose emotions are extremely limited. Just go out and read this book. 

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