The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
- Mark Haddon
- A Community Grade
After he's falsely accused of impaling the neighbor's dog with a garden fork, 15-year-old Christopher Boone, the autistic-savant hero of Mark Haddon's perceptive and moving first novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, sets about solving the case himself. For inspiration, he turns to his favorite fictional character Sherlock Holmes, with whom he shares extraordinary powers of observation and a capacity to detach his mind from all but the most pertinent details. (Incidentally, he doesn't care for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, because the author embraced spiritualism later in life, an unforgivable crime against reason.) Wearing a poker face to rival the most hard-bitten literary gumshoe, Boone tackles the case with implacable logic and limitless mental inventory, but his condition also keeps him from understanding the murkier regions of human psychology and motivation. In an audacious cognitive leap, Haddon tells the story from the boy's fixed perspective, succeeding so brilliantly that the clarity of his hero's point of view makes the world of ordinary people (with its flaws, inconsistencies, and frequent betrayals) seem out of sorts and dangerously unreliable. With its plainspoken language and occasional illustrations, often of the math formula and diagrams that occupy Boone's mind, The Curious Incident resembles Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast Of Champions, but the similarities end there. Just as Boone has no use for metaphor–which his literal mind interprets as an especially peculiar form of lying–Haddon's purpose is touchingly direct and childlike in kind, tapping into the secret reserves of fear and neediness that reside under his behavioral tics. Told that his mother died of a sudden heart attack, Boone lives alone with his volatile father, who forbids him from investigating the dog's murder, but in terms too vague for him to obey. His methodical canvassing of the neighborhood yields more confusion than answers, but his persistence pays off in other ways, leading to saddening revelations about the dissolution of his parents' marriage. What begins as an offbeat and diverting piece of detective fiction takes a serious turn in the second half, when the boy searches courageously for some kind of safe harbor from his suddenly upended home life. Haddon, who once worked with autistic patients, delights in the quirky minutiae buzzing through Boone's mind, but he particularly excels at presenting the commonplace as a terrifying adventure into the unknown. In spite of his unusual qualities, the boy's experiences aren't far removed from any child dealing with a broken home, but his condition gives his confusion and loneliness a special intensity. For a character who shows no emotion and can't abide touching, Boone reveals an interior life that's infinitely more fragile than it appears.