The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon.
Vintage, 2004. 226 pages.
I read this back in the spring, but found myself strongly reminded of it when, a little over a week ago, read the following story in the paper:
Much of boy’s two-day disappearance a mystery; he just says he ‘went hunting’:
MACKVILLE — Randall Chesser, a 7-year-old autistic boy who was found this week after being missing for 45 hours, now refers to the episode as the time he “went hunting.”
For the 500 or more volunteers and emergency workers who scoured hills, creeks and fields, it was a hunting trip they won’t soon forget. Fortunately, the story had a happy ending.
After spending a couple days at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville to be treated for dehydration, Randall returned home Thursday.
First of all, great news, clearly. I never heard the initial story that they boy had gone missing, and frankly I’m glad I caught up once the ending turned out to be a happy one. If you’ve read The Curious Incident you’ll have immediately noted the similarity.
The novel is narrated by Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic boy who stumbles on something of a mystery. Coming home one evening he discovers his neighbor’s dog dead in the yard, impaled by a garden fork. Found on the scene, Christopher is immediately suspected, and after a short stay in jail resolves to find the true culprit. The mystery ripples through his (admittedly narrow) social sphere, even all the way to London.
Christopher’s autism provides a wonderful, unique lens through which to see the story develop. The novel is his; that is, the conceit of the story is that his school instructor, Siobhan, advised him to write something, and he settled on a murder mystery. He writes as events unfold, giving the narrative a journal-like quality that preserves a particular tension and drama to sometimes pedestrian happenings. Mark Haddon’s ability to channel an autistic boy’s sensibility provides both a fascinating insight into “the other” (an “other” I had never before thought of in those terms), and allows the reader to perceive an entirely different drama than Christopher does.
Incidentally I came across a review by an autistic person who has a different take on it all. The reviewer concludes, “I just wish people would stop saying `this book is an insight into the autistic mind.’ This book is an insight into ONE autistic mind. We are each very different people. Just from this review you should be able to understand that. ”
It may be worth noting that no first-person novel can be said to provide the definitive insight into any one type of person’s mind. I recommend this book.