Book Reviews

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

By Amrita Sharma

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.jpg

A 15 year old autistic boy investigating the murder of a dog!

That didn’t sound too promising to me at first glance.

But Christopher, our protagonist, wants to write about something “real” as he cannot lie.

And he cares about the dogs!

So, even though his teacher Siobhan tries to discourage him, Christopher decides to write about his investigations into the death of a dog

“Readers care more about people than dogs.” Siobhan tells Christopher. “So if a person was killed in the book, readers would want to carry on reading.”

Guess what, Siobhan.  You were mistaken!!! Readers would want to carry on reading this mystery novel, only to discover that the murder is not the only mystery here. Even though the dog is the only one murdered, it is not the only victim.

As he gets closer to the truth, Christopher begins to investigate certain personal mysteries and the reader finds not just an answer to the initial mystery of the dead dog but also a new understanding of life with autism

“Lots of things are mysteries. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer to them. It’s just that scientists haven’t found the answer yet.”

This novel is an account by narrator, Christopher Boone, of how his world is turned topsy-turvy by the death of his dog. He ventures on an adventurous and dangerous quest and manages to get the “murder mystery solved” halfway through the novel. But, instead of restoring order, this solution leads to the unfolding of such events that threaten the carefully maintained world of Christopher.

Christopher suffers from autistic spectrum disorder called Asperser’s syndrome which is a neurobiological disorder. He’s a mathematical genius and a whiz at science.  But human emotions are particularly complex for him. He hates being touched, even by his parents. He hates the colors brown and yellow, and if one foodstuff touches another while it is on his plate, he cannot eat it. He needs to have the world just-so…. or he will scream, hit, or moan for hours. He is at a school for “special needs”. This means he is taunted regularly by his peers, misunderstood by copious adults, and is mostly reliant on his friendship with Siobhan, the teacher who is guiding him through the writing of this autobiography.

 ‘All the children at my school are stupid. Except I’m not meant to call then stupid, even though this is what they are. I’m meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties.  Because learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult. And also, everyone has special needs. Like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs. Peters who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs

For Christopher, the desire for order and stability is a necessity of living. It is easy to feel sympathy and compassion for Christopher. We feel disappointed when those close to him fail to take his needs into account, even when they are trying to help him.

He needs an ordered and stable life to be happy and safe. But, come to think of it.  Don’t we all??? We, just like Christopher, would dislike being lied to on such a scale as he is here. Many of us would switch off, or like to, when faced with trauma. We often are in a position to not see what is staring at us in the face ~ or on the faces of others.  Christopher must learn to work with, and work through his abilities and disabilities, in order to accomplish the goals he sets for himself. He picks his way through, using a logical reasoning. He gets through truth and lies, fact and fiction, relationships with his parents and relationships with the outside world

And yet, the relationship of Christopher’s parents with their child and what being Christopher’s parents does to their relationship, is a fascinating subject and I think Haddon has handled it well. I felt the anguish of the parents trying to deal with a boy who doesn’t want to be touched or hugged even when in a distressed state.

As we peep into the life of his parents through Christopher’s eyes, we cannot but empathize with them. I can relate to the difficulties Christopher´s mother has with him and admire the way his father deals with the situation. Christopher was loved by his parents. But life isn’t easy, money is not plentiful and opportunities are limited.

This book is beautifully and thoughtfully presented too. You will find diagrams, drawings, letters and mathematical problems amongst the text. Small diagrams are used to better explain some of Christopher’s theories on life, the universe and everything, and these again are a simply yet clever way of keeping the book flowing.  You will probably learn a lot too, as I did. I now know much more about Science, logic, Sherlock Holmes and nature than before I had read this book. The title of this book is actually inspired from one of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Stories- Silver Blaze from The memoirs of Sherlock Homes.

Christopher’s’ investigations will cast some light on their world and on yours, perhaps. Full of faults and limited like all of us, people in this book appeared very real and very human to me as they went about coping with the world and all its stresses and trials.  As Mark Haddon said in an interview I found on the Guardian website.

It’s about how badly we communicate with one another. It’s about accepting that every life is narrow and that our only escape from this is not to run away (to another country, another relationship, a slimmer, more confident self) but to learn to love the people we are and the world in which we find ourselves.’

Refreshing, enlightening and ultimately heartwarming, this book is neither a murder mystery nor a book about aspersers. It’s a story about people, with a different perspective.  Looking at life from a different perspective enables us to realize that our circumstances can be different, yet life per se is essentially the same for everyone. We all carry our own personal Cross which was handed down to us by our circumstance. At the same time, we are also struggling with our individual weaknesses… (Physical, mental, social and psychological)…which put a limit to our ability to bear the cross

A lucky few, like the boy and his father in this novel, manage to overcome this. The mother is overwhelmed by the situation and still we find that we cannot help but sympathize with her because she DID try her best. Only trouble was that her best was not good enough.



Crafting Delight

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