Mark Haddon was an author and illustrator of children's books, who one day decided to write a book for adults instead. An image popped into his head – of a dead poodle in someone's front lawn, stabbed with a pitchfork – and he thought it was just about the funniest thing in the world (source). Hmm, okay, Mark.
But before we give him the old "you're nuts" treatment, let's take a look at what that turned into. From that image alone, Haddon created the immensely successful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It has sold millions of copies (tens of millions, really), won the prestigious Whitbread Award in 2003, and today can be found in bookstores in just about every country in the world (source).
So, what's it all about, then? Haddon's first foray into adult novels tells the story of a fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher Boone, who finds – you guessed it – a dead dog in his neighbor's yard. On the back of most editions of the book, Christopher is described as having Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that makes social interactions difficult and uncomfortable. While this certainly seems to describe Christopher's experience in the world, his disorder is actually never specified in the book. He himself only says he has "Behaviour Problems" (73.1).
A fan of Sherlock Holmes stories, Christopher decides to do some detective work of his own, and solve the mystery of who killed the pup. Along the way, he discovers a whole lot more than he expected – both about himself and about parts of the world he never knew existed. If that sounds like a story just waiting to be turned into a movie, well, you're in luck: a film adaption is in the works.
But the book is a precious gem on its own (we feel precious for even putting it that way, but it's true!), as Christopher jumps from advanced astrophysics to the existence of God, from quadratic equations to his favorite animals at the zoo. Christopher's narrative voice is unlike any in literary history, and, against all odds, he makes a wonderful guide for this fascinating journey.
Shmoop has read a lot of books. And we mean a lot. Each of these books has a narrator, of course, and we have to admit: sometimes the narrators can start to blend together.
Well, Christopher Boone is one narrator you'll never forget. After all, this is the only book we know of that's told from the point-of-view of a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome.
If nothing else, Mark Haddon has brought us a character who will force us to look at the world from a different perspective. A perspective where the most complex mathematical formulas are common sense, and an everyday conversation is an impenetrable puzzle.
Getting out of our own heads is never a bad thing, so take a seat, pick up the book, and enjoy the journey.
One night, Christopher Boone finds his neighbor's dog dead in her front yard, with a pitchfork sticking out of it. Eek – we're off to an interesting start, that's for sure. Anyway, Christopher wonders who killed it, and decides to write a book in which he tries to figure it out, like a murder mystery novel.
Christopher has a disability – unspecified in the book, but which has been compared with an autism spectrum disorder called Asperger syndrome – that makes it difficult for him to understand social norms like body language and other forms of human interaction. He is, however, tremendously good at math and more logic-based skills (like writing a crazily-detailed daily schedule, or drawing intricate maps of places he's only visited once).
Christopher's neighbor, Mrs. Shears, finds him with her (now-dead) dog, calls the police, and Christopher has to spend a few hours in a jail cell. Eventually, his father comes to get him, and tells Christopher to not investigate the dog's death any further. So, in response, Christopher thinks of all kinds of ways to interpret his father's demand as specifically as possible… so he can still do all of his detective work while somehow not disobeying him.
He starts asking around the neighborhood to see if anyone knows anything about the dog's death. He decides that since Mr. Shears left his wife two years ago, perhaps he hates her, and killed her dog to make her sad. (Seems like a stretch, but you never know.) When Christopher's father finds out he's been asking people about the dog, he makes him promise he'll stop. Again. Christopher promises.
So, of course, Christopher continues talking to one of his neighbors, who tells him that his (Christopher's) mother and Mr. Shears were having an affair before he left Mrs. Shears. That's bad news. But Christopher tells her that his mother died two years ago, of a heart attack.
Christopher's father finds the detective book Christopher has been writing, in which he's recorded everything that has happened so far. He's really mad about it, and takes the book away. A few days later, Christopher searches the house for the book, and finds it hidden in his father's bedroom. But here's the kicker: he also finds a big stack of letters addressed to him, from his mother. He reads a few of them, and discovers that – wait for it – she's actually still alive! His father had been lying to him this whole time.
His father apologizes for lying, and also admits that he was the one who killed Mrs. Shears' dog. As it turns out, he has feelings for Mrs. Shears, and was mad that she didn't want to be with him. Whoa.
Christopher decides that living with his father is no longer such a great (or safe) idea – he is a dog-killer after all – and thinks it's best to move to London and live with his mother. Problem is, he's never gone anywhere by himself before, and has difficulty being in busy places and/or around large groups of people. The journey is, as we might then expect, incredibly challenging. First, after he runs away, his father enlists the police to try to find him. He manages to escape anyway, but then he's totally overwhelmed, being on his own like this. He repeatedly vomits and passes out and just feels horribly sick.
Hours and hours later, he arrives at his mother's apartment in London. She's living with none other than Mr. Shears. Christopher tells her that his father said she was dead, and she's horrified to learn this. When Christopher's father comes to find him, she demands he leave and insists that poor Christopher can live with her. But Christopher is afraid of Mr. Shears, and is quite eager to go back home to take an important exam that will help him get into university.
After about a week, he and his mom go back home, and Christopher takes the exam (even though he can't think straight, after not eating or sleeping for days on end). His mother gets a job and a not-so-nice apartment, which Christopher hates. Meanwhile, his father tries very hard to earn back his trust. He buys him a puppy (that's some brownie points right there), and Christopher begins spending some time at his house again.
He receives his exam results, and finds out that he got the best possible score. Having successfully traveled to London on his own, and solved the mystery of who killed the dog, he's sure he can do anything. We agree.
- We know what you're thinking: "Chapter 2? What happened to Chapter 1?"
- But there is no Chapter 1. This book begins with Chapter 2. "But why?" you ask. We'll get to that, we assure you. "This is weird and confusing," you insist. And so we give you a nice cup of hot cocoa and tell you to relax, and just keep reading.
- Okay, so, Chapter 2. It's seven minutes after midnight and there's a dead dog lying on someone's front lawn, with a garden fork sticking out of its side.
- This is certainly a curious incident, finding this dog here in the night-time, wouldn't you say?
- But wait, that's just the first paragraph.
- Next, the narrator leans down beside the dog, and finds that it's still warm. The narrator knows this dog – his name is (or was) Wellington, and he belongs to his neighbor, Mrs. Shears.
- The narrator pets the dog and wonders who killed him, and why. Curious, indeed.
- Finally, the narrator introduces himself: "My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7057" (3.1).
- Then he shows us some pictures of faces (happy faces, sad faces, angry faces) that a woman called Siobhan showed him some years before.
- He explains that he has a difficult time differentiating between them.
- ("Hey, What happened to Chapter 4?" Shh, just give us one minute – everything will become clear.)
- Christopher pulls the pitchfork out of Wellington's side and gives the dog a hug. He says he likes dogs because it's easy to know what they're thinking, and they only have four moods. Sounds easy enough.
- Just then Mrs. Shears, Christopher's neighbor and Wellington's owner, comes running out of her house, screaming. She accuses Christopher of killing the dog, and just keeps screaming.
- Christopher is frightened by her screams: he places his hands over his ears, rolls into a ball, and lies down on the grass.
- "This is a murder mystery novel," Christopher announces (7.1).
- Siobhan had told him to write something he would like to read himself, and he likes murder mystery novels (particularly the Sherlock Holmes ones). So there you have it.
- Siobhan says that murder mysteries are usually about the murder of a person, and it would be pretty unusual to write one about a dog.
- But Christopher quickly offers up a few reasons why writing about the dog is okay: (1) he likes dogs; (2) he wants to write about something that really happened to him, because he has a hard time imagining things; and (3) he doesn't know any people who have been murdered. Pretty sound reasoning, right?
- He also mentions that some dogs are "more clever and more interesting" than some people – particularly the ones in his class (7.8). Ouch!
- Now we're back in Mrs. Shears' yard, and the police have just arrived. Christopher likes the police, because they "have uniforms and numbers and you know what they are meant to be doing" (11.1).
- In other words, their consistency and order make him feel safe. (Read more about order and safety in our "Themes" section.)
- One policeman leads Mrs. Shears into her house and the other one walks over to talk to Christopher. (Remember, he's still crouched on the ground, with his face in the grass.)
- They don't have such an easy time talking.
- First, Christopher answers the policeman's questions very literally, and the cop is confused. (For example, he asks what Christopher was doing in the garden. Christopher answers honestly that he was holding the dog, but the policeman just wanted to know why he was in the garden in the first place.)
- Then the policeman starts asking questions very quickly (like "Did you kill the dog?" and "Is this your fork?") and Christopher gets a little freaked out and overwhelmed (11.17, 11.19). We would be, too. Not cool, Mr. Policeman.
- To make himself feel better, Christopher lies back down on the grass and starts groaning, which he finds very calming. (He compares the groaning to white noise.)
- The policeman tries to pick Christopher up off the ground. Christopher doesn't like this one bit, and so… he hits him.
- Here we get another step back into the mind of the narrator. Christopher tells us that this book won't include any jokes because he doesn't understand them.
- He particularly dislikes puns and sentences with multiple meanings because it makes him feel like a lot of people are all talking at once. Sounds like Shmoop's family dinners.
- The policeman tells Christopher he's being arrested for assault. When he hears this, he feels much calmer, because it's the kind of thing cops say on TV.
- The policeman puts him into the back of his police car, and Christopher looks out the window up at the stars. He takes this opportunity to tell us a little about the universe. It turns out he likes scientific facts, because they are things "you can work out in your own mind [...] without having to ask anyone" (17.13).
- Finally the big mystery of the chapter numbers is revealed! It's all about – wait for it – prime numbers. Christopher loves 'em.
- When Christopher arrives at the police station, they make him empty his pockets, and he describes in detail what he had with him
- They try to take his watch, but he screams, so they let him keep it.
- Then they ask him if he has any family. Short answer? Yes. Long answer? Everything Christopher says: he tells them about his father and his uncles and his grandparents and, well, way more information than they need to know.
- He also tells them (and us) that his mother is dead.
- They ask for his father's phone number, and put Christopher into a cell. While he's in there, Christopher figures out the volume of air present in the cell, and also works out what would be the best way to escape (if he were in a story, that is). Those are some major math chops he has.
- He also wonders if Mrs. Shears told the police that he killed her dog. If she did, he figures she'll go to prison when they find out she was lying.
- Now Christopher tells us a little about why he finds people confusing. And from the way he says it, it makes us wonder why we don't find people every bit as confusing as he does.
- (For example: "Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is in when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds" [29.4]. See what we mean?)
- At around 1:00AM, Christopher's father arrives at the police station and from his cell, Christopher can hear him start yelling at everyone. Soon enough, a policeman brings his dad over to his cell.
- He and his father do this thing where his dad holds up his right hand and Christopher holds up his left hand and they each spread their fingers and then touch their fingertips together. (Try it out!)
- They do this instead of hugging, because Christopher doesn't like to be touched. It's a sweet gesture, and it's how Christopher knows that his dad loves him.
- Now it's time for some questioning. The policeman asks Christopher if he meant to hit the policeman. Christopher says yes, he did. The policeman refines his question, asking if he meant to hurt the policeman. This time, Christopher says no – he just wanted the guy to stop touching him.
- And now for the big question: did Christopher kill the dog? He says that he didn't, but the policeman doesn't seem to believe him so he asks if Christopher is telling the truth. Our kid-narrator says yes: he always tells the truth.
- The policeman gives Christopher a warning, and Christopher asks if it will be printed on a piece of paper that he can keep.
- They leave the room, pick up the things that had been taken from Christopher's pockets, and he and his father drive home.
- And that's the story of Christopher's stint in the slammer.
- Now Christopher explains why he never lies – it isn't because he doesn't want to, it's just that he doesn't know how.
- A lie, he explains, is something that didn't really happen. And when he tries to think about something that didn't really happen, he starts thinking about all the infinite possibilities for things that didn't really happen. And it makes him feel "shaky and scared" (37.4).
- We'd love to borrow this kid's imagination for an afternoon.
- Anyway, this is why Christopher doesn't like novels (boo!). And it's also how we know everything in this book is true.
- On the drive home, Christopher apologizes to his dad for making him pick him up at the police station, but he says he didn't kill the dog. His father believes him.
- Christopher brings up the idea of finding out who killed the dog, but his dad tells him to stay out of other people's business.
- When Christopher persists, his dad gets angry and starts banging the steering wheel with his fist.
- Finally, they get home: Christopher gives a carrot to his pet rat Toby and plays a computer game. Normal late-night stuff.
- At 2:00AM, he goes downstairs and finds his father is drinking whiskey, watching television, and crying.
- Christopher asks if he's sad about Wellington's less than happy fate. His father replies with this very curious response: "He looked at me for a long time and sucked air in through his nose. Then he said, 'Yes, Christopher, you could say that. You could very well say that'" (41.22).
- This chapter is the story of how Christopher's mother died two years ago. Here's the first part of that flashback:
- Christopher arrives home from school one day and, when no one answers the door, he lets himself in with a key that's hidden outside.
- His dad gets home, but neither of them knows where Christopher's mom is. After making some phone calls, his father says he has to leave the house for a while.
- And boy does he mean a while: he's gone for a long time. Finally, he comes back and tells Christopher, "I'm afraid you won't be seeing your mother for a while" (43.7). It turns out she's in the hospital.
- Christopher starts asking a lot of questions – because it's his mother and he wants to know what's wrong with her, of course, but also because he likes hospitals.
- We learn that there's a problem with his mom's heart.
- Christopher wants to bring her some food, because hospital food is gross. (He's right about that!) His father says he'll pick some things up for her at the grocery store and bring them to her along with the get well card Christopher is planning on making.
- Okay, now we're back in the present (you know, the whole curious incident present). Christopher takes the bus to school the next morning.
- They pass four red cars in a row, which means it is a "Good Day," so Christopher decides not to be sad about Wellington anymore.
- Our narrator then explains the difference between a "Good Day" and a "Quite Good Day" and a "Super Good Day" (which are, of course, all awesome); and a "Black Day" ("a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks" [47.2]).
- Long story short: the quality of the day depends on which cars he sees while he's riding the bus. Red cars are good; yellow cars are bad.
- The school psychologist once told him that it's random and illogical being so affected by cars like that (and particularly strange because Christopher is otherwise a very logical guy). But Christopher argues that it's no more illogical to be affected by red and yellow cars than it is to be affected by the weather – to be happy if it's sunny and sad if it's cloudy. Touché!
- Christopher then offers up some more examples of so-called "normal" behavior being illogical, and his own "unusual" behavior being really quite normal.
- He recalls the school psychologist asking some other things, like whether it makes him feel safe to always have things in a nice order (answer: yes) and whether he doesn't like it when things change (answer: he wouldn't mind changing if he were changing into an astronaut).
- Christopher says he probably won't become an astronaut, but he's definitely going to go to university (as they call it in the UK) to study Mathematics or Physics.
- After that little digression, we hear more about his Good Day. Because it's a Good Day, he decides to try to figure out who killed Wellington, "because a Good Day is a day for projects and planning things" (47.15). Naturally.
- Siobhan (his teacher) says that it's is a story-writing day, so maybe he should write a story about the night he found Wellington.
- "And that is when I started writing this" (47.17).
- Let's flash back to the flashback.
- Christopher's mother dies two weeks later. He never got to see her in the hospital, but his father had been in to see her, and brought her the card Christopher made for her.
- His dad says she died of a heart attack, which surprises Christopher because she was only thirty-eight years old and very healthy.
- He asks what kind of heart attack it was, but his father tells him that it's not the time to ask questions like that.
- Mrs. Shears (Wellington's owner, remember her?) comes over to cook them dinner and she consoles Christopher's father. Nice lady, it seems.
- Christopher acknowledges the fact that his father told him not to keep thinking about who killed Wellington, but too bad: he's going to do it anyway.
- He says that when people tell you to do something, it can be confusing because they often use metaphors or just aren't specific enough. (For example, instead of a sign reading "KEEP OFF THE GRASS," he would prefer a sign reading "KEEP OFF ALL THE GRASS IN THIS PARK" [59.2], so it's clear that he can walk on other areas of grass in the world.)
- His teacher Siobhan understands, and always gives him very specific instructions, but no one else does. And anyway, most people break rules themselves (especially Christopher's father).
- So Christopher always decides for himself what he's going to do: right now, that means finding out who killed Wellington.
- That night, he goes to Mrs. Shears' house and tells her that he didn't kill Wellington: but he wants to know if she knows who did it.
- She shuts the door in his face. So much for appreciating his fine detective skills.
- When he's sure she isn't watching him, he goes around to her garden shed. It's locked, so he peeks in through the window, and he sees a pitchfork that looks just like the one that killed Wellington.
- He figures it's unlikely that Mrs. Shears killed her own dog (considering how upset she was about the whole thing), so that leaves three options: (1) she left the shed unlocked, (2) she left the fork lying out, or (3) the dog was killed by someone who had the key to the shed.
- Mrs. Shears comes outside and threatens to call the police again, so Christopher goes home. He feeds his rat Toby and feels happy about being a detective.
- Time for another brief return to the flashback.
- Christopher's teacher Mrs. Forbes tells him that his mother went to heaven after she died, but he doesn't think heaven exists.
- He once asked a priest where heaven is and was told, "It's not in our universe. It's another kind of place altogether" (61.3).
- Since it's impossible for anything to be outside of the universe, Christopher concludes that heaven cannot exist, and that "people believe in heaven because they don't like the idea of dying" (61.6). Well, then.
- Christopher thinks that when people die, they just die, and they're either buried and decompose or are burned and turned into ash.
- His mom was cremated, so sometimes he looks into the sky and imagines that the molecules of her body are floating over the earth and coming down as rain or snow.
- Christopher sets out to do some more detective work. He decides to ask his neighbors if they might know something about who killed Wellington.
- Usually he doesn't like talking to strangers – not because it's dangerous, but because he just doesn't like people he doesn't know.
- But, just in case, he always carries his Swiss Army knife in his pocket.
- He makes a map of his street, and starts knocking on doors, but no one knows anything at the first few houses he checks.
- Then he goes to the house of a woman called Mrs. Alexander who's super friendly: she says she recognizes Christopher from seeing him go to school every day.
- Christopher is a little confused because she's "doing what is called chatting where people say things to each other which aren't questions and answers and aren't connected" (67.67). We hear you, Chris.
- She invites him inside for tea, but he says he doesn't go into other people's houses. Oh, and he only drinks orange squash. Mrs. Alexander says she'll bring some outside then, but while she's inside, Christopher starts getting worried that maybe she's calling the police. So he leaves.
- On his way back home, he comes up with a way to figure out who might have killed Wellington. He just needs to figure out who would want to make Mrs. Shears upset.
- Hmmm. Christopher only knows one person who doesn't like Mrs. Shears, and that's – wait for it – Mr. Shears. Aha.
- Mr. Shears left his wife two years ago and never came back. (That's partly why Mrs. Shears cooked for him and his father after Christopher's mother died: she was lonely and needed company.)
- (He also mentions that sometimes Mrs. Shears slept over at their house, and kept things tidy in the kitchen.)
- Christopher doesn't know much about why couples get divorced, but he figures it's because they hate each other. And if Mr. Shears really hates Mrs. Shears, he might have come back to the house to kill her dog. You know, to make her cry.
- He decides Mr. Shears is his Prime Suspect.
- Christopher says that all the other students at his school are stupid. He knows he shouldn't call them stupid: it's better to say they have learning disabilities.
- But that doesn't make sense because everyone in the world has learning disabilities – after all, learning stuff is hard.
- He's going to prove that he's not stupid, though, when he takes his A levels (sort of the UK equivalent of the SAT in the US) next month and gets an A – which, by the way, no one from his school has ever done before.
- It wasn't easy convincing the school to let him take the exam: his father even had to come in and argue on his behalf.
- Christopher repeats that the full plan is as follows: take his A levels, go to university, and get some awesome high-paying job in Math and Physics.
- Then he can either pay someone to take care of him, or maybe even meet a woman to will marry him – that way, he doesn't have to be alone.
- Christopher decides to go into flashback mode again.
- His mother and father used to argue a lot, and sometimes he wondered if they might get divorced.
- He says most of their problems came from the stress of taking care of him. He used to be much harder to take care of when he was younger, evidently: he smashed things, refused to eat or drink, and screamed when he was confused.
- Yeah, it used to be pretty bad.
- Back in the present, Christopher gets home from his investigative word and his father is sitting at the kitchen table.
- Christopher has to tell a "white lie": he says he's been "out" (79.3).
- Unfortunately, his cover is blown: Mrs. Shears just called and told him that Christopher was snooping around in her yard again.
- His dad pretty angry, since he specifically told Christopher "to keep [his] nose out of other people's business" (79.10) – obviously this doesn't include poking around someone else's property.
- Christopher tries to reason with him – after all, Mr. Shears is his Prime Suspect. This doesn't go over very well with Dad: he totally flips out, banging the table and yelling that he never wants to hear Mr. Shears' name mentioned in his house. That guy is evil.
- Christopher says he knows he shouldn't mess around in other people's business, but Mrs. Shears is a friend.
- Not anymore, his father tells him. And anyway, Dad is really losing his patience at this point, so he very specifically tells Christopher a few things he's not allowed to do: namely, go around asking people about the dog, and anything involving "this ridiculous bloody detective game" (79.23).
- His father makes him promise. So promise, he does.
- Christopher wants to tell us why he thinks he'd make a good astronaut and it turns out he has a lot of very good reasons. He's really quite convincing.
- He says he'd still go (into space, that is) even if they wouldn't let him bring Toby with him.
- The next day, Christopher goes to school and tells Siobhan that he won't be able to finish the book, because his dad made him promise to stop detecting.
- She's okay with that – the book is really good as is, and not all books have nice tidy conclusions to their mysteries anyway (perhaps that's what makes them mysterious).
- They have a brief conversation about Mr. and Mrs. Shears, but Siobhan can't offer Christopher any help because she doesn't know the couple.
- Each of the next two days, Christopher sees four yellow cars in a row on the way to school. You know what that means: Black Days.
- Not to worry: the day after those Black Days, Christopher sees five red cars in a row. It's a Super Good Day so he knows something good is going to happen.
- After school, he goes to a store and runs into Mrs. Alexander. Maybe talking to her is the special thing that's going to happen on his Super Good Day.
- Christopher does "some reasoning": his father made him promise not to do five specific things, and talking to Mrs. Alexander was not one of those specific things. So he figures it's okay to ask her about Mr. Shears.
- Mrs. Alexander is hesitant to answer his questions, though. Christopher doesn't understand why, and he asks if Mr. Shears killed his (Christopher's) mother. (Answer: of course not.)
- Christopher tells her that his mother had a heart attack and died, and Mrs. Alexander is shocked and surprised to hear this.
- Then she says something else curious: "So you don't know?" (97.68). Christopher doesn't know what the heck she's talking about – and neither do we.
- She says she really shouldn't be telling him anything, but suggests they take a walk together.
- Christopher is nervous (because she's a stranger, after all) and excited (because she might know something about who killed Wellington).
- Mrs. Alexander makes Christopher promise that he won't tell his father that she told him anything. He promises, so she spills the beans.
- It turns out that, before she died, his mother "very good friends" with Mr. Shears (97.80). Eventually Christopher realizes she means that the two were having an affair.
- He asks if this is why Mr. Shears left Mrs. Shears, and Mrs. Alexander says that it probably is.
- Christopher isn't taking this well: he's frightened and says he's going home.
- Here's another digressive (and fun) chapter, in which Christopher tells us about the Monty Hall problem.
- You can read more about it in our handy link above, but for our purposes now, suffice it to say it's an example of conventional wisdom not being correct, and answers not always being so straightforward.
- This definitely sounds like something Christopher could get behind.
- When Christopher gets home, his father's friend Rhodri is there.
- He goes outside in the garden and looks up at the sky.
- Now Christopher tells us about his favorite book, a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called The Hound of the Baskervilles.
- We won't bother summarizing the book here (though we highly recommend you read it yourself!), since Christopher is mostly telling us about it to explain the difference between clues and red herrings (which are like fake clues).
- Christopher writes some more in his book and then brings it into school so Siobhan can help him make corrections.
- When she reads the bit about his mother and Mr. Shears, she's understandably shocked.
- She asks Christopher if this news made him sad. (No.) Is he sure? (Yes.)
- Siobhan explains that sometimes people don't like to admit they're sad, or don't even realize they're sad. And even when he insists he's not sad, she tells him she's available to talk if he wants.
- Christopher has a photographic memory and he tells us now what that's like. For one thing, it allows him to recall pretty vivid memories of his mother.
- He also uses his photographic memory when he meets someone, to figure out if he's met them before.
- And one last thing: it helps him remember how to act in certain situations, recalling how he acted in the past. Makes sense to us.
- He compares these images in his mind to what the rest of us might call "imagination."
- Christopher gets home from school, and his father is still at work, so he goes about his business: he puts his school things on the kitchen table (including his detective book), makes himself a milkshake, and starts watching a video about life in the ocean.
- His father comes home and finds the book on the kitchen table. This isn't going to end well.
- He's really pissed, and Christopher tries to explain that technically he didn't disobey him, having tiptoed around the specific things his father said not to do.
- Before he can finish, his father cuts him off: "Don't give me that bullocks, you little shit. You knew exactly what you were bloody doing. I've read the book, remember" (127.18). That's pretty harsh.
- After some more yelling, he grabs Christopher roughly by the arm, something he's never done before. (Christopher says his mother used to hit him sometimes, but his father is more patient than she was.)
- Christopher doesn't like being grabbed, so he starts hitting his father. And then he blacks out.
- When he wakes up, he's sitting on the carpet: there's blood on his hand and the side of his head hurts.
- Christopher's father is standing a few feet away. His shirt is torn, the detecting book is bent in half, and he's breathing heavily.
- His father walks outside and puts the book into the garbage can, then comes back in and says he needs a drink. He gets himself a beer.
- In this chapter, Christopher explains why he hates the colors yellow and brown. (You know, Shmoop prefers purple and green anyway.)
- We're back to the post-hit moment with Christopher and his dad. Christopher's father apologizes for hitting him, and cleans out the cut on Christopher's cheek. To show that he's really, really sorry, he even takes Christopher to the zoo.
- Christopher takes this opportunity to list his favorite animals.
- At the zoo café, father and son have a little heart-to-heart. Christopher's father tells him that he loves him and he's sorry that sometimes he gets so angry. He's only like that because he loves Christopher so much: he worries about him and doesn't want him to get hurt.
- He asks Christopher if he understands what he's saying, but Christopher isn't quite sure.
- So he asks if Christopher at least understands that he loves him. Christopher knows that loving someone means that you help them and look after them and tell them the truth. These are all things his father does for him, so he says yes.
- And, to end the chapter, Christopher draws a map of the zoo.
- In this chapter, Christopher tells us about The Case of the Cottingley Fairies.
- In 1917, two young cousins claimed they played with fairies by a stream. They took photos of themselves with the fairies, and many people (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned the Sherlock Holmes tales) believed they were real.
- But, in the end, they were – alas! – revealed to be a hoax.
- Christopher concludes that "Occam's razor," - a theory that says the simplest explanation is the right one – must be correct.
- On Monday, Christopher goes back to school.
- Siobhan asks why he has a bruise on his face, and he tells her what happened. They talk about it for a while and then Siobhan asks if he's scared to go home again. Christopher says he isn't, and so they drop the subject.
- When he gets home from school that day, Christopher starts looking for his book. It isn't in the garbage can, so he looks all around the house. Eventually he's looked everywhere but his father's bedroom.
- He's very careful not to move anything, or else his father will know he was snooping around in there, which clearly won't make their situation any better.
- Finally, underneath a toolkit at the bottom of the cupboard, inside an old shirt box, he finds his book. Ta-da!
- At that moment, he hears his father's van pull up outside the house.
- Christopher knows he has to think fast. He figures that his dad probably won't throw the book away, so he doesn't have to worry about losing it.
- He'll start another book, and maybe get this one back one day when his father is less angry.
- Right when he hears the car door slam outside, he sees an envelope with his name, "Christopher Boone," written on the front.
- Then he sees there's a whole big stack of envelopes, all addressed to him. And the handwriting is all the same, with the letter I dotted with circles instead of dots.
- There are only three people he knows who draw circles above the letter I like that: Siobhan, another teacher, and his mother.
- He quickly takes one envelope from the stack and puts everything else back in the cupboard. This kid's a quick thinker.
- When his father calls his name, he doesn't answer: Christopher doesn't want him to know he's in his room. Instead takes the envelope into his room and hides it under the mattress before heading downstairs.
- His father makes him dinner and they're very nice to each other while they eat – it's really quite sweet.
- Then Christopher goes back to his room, shuts the door, and takes out the envelope.
- He wonders whether it's okay for him to open it: on the one hand, he took it from his father's room; on the other hand, it's addressed to him (not his dad).
- He opens it, and reads it.
- The author apologizes for not having written in so long, but she's been very busy. She writes about her new job working as a secretary in a factory, and about the new flat she and someone called Roger have moved into in London.
- She says she realizes that Christopher is probably still angry with her, but she would love to hear from him.
- And – here's the kicker – it's signed, "Your Mum."
- Although we're starting to put the pieces together, Christopher is still confused, since his mother never worked as a secretary in a factory, and never lived in London.
- He looks at the postmark on the envelope, and sees that it was sent eighteen months after his mother died.
- Okay, now he's really, really confused.
- At that moment, his father walks in and tells him that one of his favorite TV shows is on, if he wants to come down and watch it.
- Christopher stays in his room and tries to figure out what in the world is going on.
- Then he gets really excited, because now he has two mysteries to solve. Sherlock Holmes, here we come!
- Christopher decides that the next time his father is out of the house, he'll read the other letters. But for now, he goes downstairs to watch TV. We totally approve.
- In this chapter, Christopher writes about some other unsolved mysteries, like people believing in ghosts.
- He also writes about a different kind of mystery – the fluctuating population of frogs in the pond near his school – but he uses mathematics to explain that one.
- Six days later, when his father goes out, Christopher finally has another opportunity to go back to read the other letters.
- There are forty-three letters in all. He picks one at random and starts reading it.
- His mother recalls a time two Christmases ago when Christopher got a new train set as a gift, and refused to go to bed because he didn't want to stop playing with it. Nice memory.
- How about another one? This time, his mother tries to explain why she left Christopher and his father. She admits she wasn't a very good mother and that Christopher's father is much more patient than she is.
- Then she recalls a time when she and Christopher went Christmas shopping. Christopher had a meltdown in a store and shouted and smashed things, and eventually they had to walk home because Christopher refused to get on the bus.
- She tried talking to his father but she had a tough time making him understand her struggles. Eventually, things got so strained that they stopped talking altogether.
- This is when she started spending more time with Roger, evidently. Roger told her that he and Eileen weren't in love with each other – he was lonely, too.
- Is anyone else wondering why she's spilling all this out to her long-distance son?
- In any case, she continues on to write that she and Roger fell in love. Roger suggested they run away together, but she said she could never leave Christopher.
- But then one day, she and Christopher had a big argument, in which they both threw things and she ended up with a few broken toes.
- This led to another big argument with Christopher's father.
- Since his mom couldn't walk for a while, Christopher's father had to take care of him alone. And according to this letter, Christopher seemed to be much happier around his dad.
- And so she decided that everyone would be better off if she simply wasn't around after all.
- Roger applied for a job transfer, and the two of them moved to London.
- She wanted to say good-bye, but Christopher's father was incredibly angry after she left, and told her she could never come back to see him.
- Almost over, we promise. She just repeats how sorry she is, and says that she never ever meant to hurt him.
- She concludes the letter by writing how much she thinks about him. She wonders how he's doing, and asks him to please write or call.
- (Considering he never got the letters, he clearly didn't do that.)
- On to a third letter. In this one, Christopher's mother writes about her new job and she asks him if he likes the present that she and Roger sent him.
- Finally, he opens a fourth one. He starts to read about his mother's trip to the dentist, but he can't finish it because he starts to feel sick.
- He realizes the truth: "Mother had not had a heart attack. Mother had not died. Mother had been alive all the time. And Father had lied about this" (157.19).
- He tries to think of another explanation, but can't come up with any other possibility.
- That's a tough one to swallow.
- He starts feeling dizzy, and his stomach hurts. He gets into his father's bed, curls into a ball and passes out. When he wakes up, there's vomit on the sheets and his father is calling his name.
- As he hears his name being called, he can see it written out in his mother's handwriting on the envelopes.
- At first, his father is angry that Christopher has been going through his stuff. But then he notices the letters, and realizes that Christopher knows the truth: that's a way bigger deal than just snooping.
- He freaks out a little bit, and then he starts crying and says, "I did it for your good, Christopher. Honestly I did. I never meant to lie [...] It was so complicated. So difficult " (157.38, 42).
- Then he takes Christopher into the bath to clean him up. And even though he's being touched, Christopher is okay with it.
- Let's dive into another brief flashback, from when Christopher first started going to school:
- His teacher sits down with him and takes out a tube of Smarties (not the American kind!).
- She asks him what he thinks is inside the tube. Um, Smarties?
- But when she turns the tube upside-down, a small red pencil comes out. Whoa.
- Then she asks him what Christopher's mother would think was in the tube if she came in the room right now. Christopher says that she would think there was a pencil inside.
- In the present, he explains that this is because, when he was younger, he "didn't understand about other people having minds" (164.8).
- One more quick dip into the flashback: the teacher explains to Christopher's parents that he would always have difficulty with this sort of thinking.
- Okay, back to the present. That kind of stuff doesn't trip him up anymore. Now he thinks about it like a puzzle, trying to figure out what other people know.
- Christopher spends some time comparing human minds to computers, and human minds to animal minds: he says that most people think humans are different from computers because humans have emotions, but really "feelings are just having a picture on the screen in your head of what is going to happen tomorrow or next year, or what might have happened instead of what did happen, and if it is a happy picture they smile and if it is a sad picture they cry" (163.20).
- We never thought about it like that.
- Christopher's father gets him all cleaned up and asks if he's had anything to eat today. He doesn't respond.
- His father leaves the room, and Christopher just sits on the bed, staring at his knees.
- He "doubles 2s" (that is, does 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 in his head) and gets to 33,554,432. (!) He says usually he gets much farther, but right now his "brain [isn't] working very well" (167.10).
- Eventually Christopher's father comes back and says he wants Christopher to know that he can trust him. He knows he messed up, but it's not easy telling the truth all the time, and he's really doing his best.
- He promises he's going to tell the truth from now on – about everything, always.
- Then he tells him that he was the one who killed Wellington, the dog.
- Christopher thinks he's just kidding, but he's not. His new truth streak is the real deal.
- Christopher's father explains, very slowly and painfully, that when his mother left, he and Mrs. Shears started spending time together, and he was really hoping that they would become a couple, and that she would move in with them.
- Instead, he and Mrs. Shears ended up arguing a lot. She said some mean things about Christopher and in the end seemed to love her dog (Wellington) more than she cared about either of them.
- So, one night, after he and Mrs. Shears had an argument, he saw the darn dog in the yard and just snapped.
- He says he couldn't help himself, and that he and Christopher really aren't so different.
- He apologizes again, very sincerely.
- This is the point when Christopher realizes he isn't joking. This is definitely a lot to take in all at once. This was his whole mystery, after all.
- His father stands up, takes a deep breath, and walks out of the room. Christopher stays seated on the bed.
- He sees Toby in his cage, staring through the bars.
- Christopher decides he has to get out of the house. He very logically concludes: "Father had murdered Wellington. That meant he could murder me, because I couldn't trust him, even though he had said, 'Trust me,' because he had told a lie about a big thing" (167.30).
- He decides to wait until his father is asleep before he tries to escape, though.
- At 1:20AM, he still hasn't heard his father come upstairs to bed and he wonders if maybe he's fallen asleep downstairs. Or, perhaps he's hiding, waiting to kill Christopher. Uh oh.
- He opens the saw blade on his Swiss Army knife so he can defend himself, just in case his father attacks him. He tip-toes downstairs and sees that his father is asleep on the couch (not waiting to kill him, it seems).
- Christopher is really scared, and wonders if he's going to have a heart attack.
- He puts on warm clothes, takes his special food box, and gets Toby's cage from upstairs. Then he walks out the back door into the backyard.
- He thinks of going into the shed (because it would be warmer) but is pretty sure his father would look for him there. So he crams himself into a narrow space between the shed and a fence, lying down next to some junk.
- That can't be comfortable, but a kid's gotta do what a kid's gotta do.
- He eats some food, and wonders what to do next. We're wondering, too.
- From where he's sitting, Christopher can see the constellation Orion.
- He writes about how silly constellations are, because people just make up pictures by pretending the stars are connected. If you think about it, Orion could be made to look like a dinosaur or a coffee maker or a lady with an umbrella.
- Or the Shmoop logo?
- Christopher looks at the sky for a long time and thinks about how big and far away stars are (we know, right?). He also thinks about how small we humans are, and how our problems are not nearly as important as we think they are. This kid is deep.
- He sleeps pretty badly: it's cold and he's uncomfortable and Toby makes a lot of noise scratching around in his cage.
- In the morning, his father comes out to look for him, so he covers himself with a plastic tarp to hide, and takes out his Swiss Army knife just in case he needs to defend himself.
- His father comes to the shed but can't find him (Chris nailed his hiding place, apparently) so he goes back inside and eventually gets in his van and drives away.
- Christopher decides to go live with Mrs. Shears, figuring that when he tells her that he knows who killed Wellington, she'll be so happy she'll want him to stay there.
- He knocks on her door, but there's no answer. Shoot – he needs a back-up plan.
- First, he thinks of all the things he can't do, like go home or live with Siobhan or Mrs. Alexander.
- The one thing he can do, it seems, is go live with his mother.
- He has her address, but she lives in London, and he's never been there before.
- The thought of going somewhere on his own is really scary, but the thought of going back home with his dog-killing dad is even scarier.
- So he makes a diagram of his options and, by process of elimination, decides that going to live his mother is really his best bet.
- All this makes him think about how he'll never really become an astronaut because he would have to live thousands of miles from home – talk about scary.
- Then, standing there in the street, he comes up with a plan. Things are starting to look up.
- He walks to Mrs. Alexander's house and asks her to take care of Toby for him because he's going to London to live with his mother.
- After some questions, Christopher reveals that he thought his mother was dead, but really his father had been lying to him.
- Oh, and his father is the one who killed Wellington. This sure is a lot of disclosure for one afternoon.
- You can probably imagine the expression on Mrs. Alexander's face as she hears this.
- She tries to get Christopher to come inside and call his father, assuming there must be some mistake.
- No can do, Mrs. A. Instead, Christopher runs back to his house.
- The door is locked, so he picks up a brick and smashes a window, opening the door that way. Yikes.
- He gets his school bag and throws some food in it, but then he notices his father's cell phone and wallet are on the table.
- For a moment he freezes, thinking his father must be home. But then he remembers that his van wasn't parked outside, so he can't be home.
- Here's what that means: (1) he's safe, and (2) his father must have forgotten his wallet when he left earlier.
- Christopher takes his dad's bank card out of the wallet: he knows the pin code and can use it to get some money to go to London. This is getting sneaky.
- He's planning on asking Siobhan at school how to get to the train station. While he's walking, he realizes that his fear of being in a new place and his fear of being near his father are inversely proportional.
- What does that mean? Well, when one fear gets bigger, the other gets smaller (and his overall fear remains constant).
- When Christopher arrives at school, he sees his father's van is parked outside. He doesn't take this well; in fact, it makes him vomit. He wants to curl into a ball and groan again, but knows if he does this, his father will find him. So he takes some deep breaths, counting the breaths – and squaring the numbers, naturally.
- He decides to ask someone else for directions to the train station, and he takes out the saw blade of his Swiss Army knife again – you know, just in case.
- It turns out the train station is just down the street, so he follows a bus which is heading in that direction.
- Unfortunately, he gets a little lost. Usually, he says, he would just picture a map in his head and use that to find the train station. But his brain isn't working so well this time around.
- He sorts out a very efficient method of wandering until he finds the station. He focuses really hard on his internal map so he can ignore everyone and everything around him.
- And guess what? Success! He finally arrives at the train station, and goes inside.
- Christopher describes how, unlike most people, he sees everything. He can't just glance around and focus on certain things and ignore others – it all registers with him.
- Everyone else, it turns out, is "lazy" and "almost blind" (181.3, 181.15). Thanks, Chris – how kind!
- In any case, this is why Christopher is so easily overwhelmed by new places.
- He even compares himself to a computer doing way too many calculations at once.
- When he's in a new place with lots of people around, he closes his eyes and covers his ears – kind of like rebooting a computer.
- Okay, so Christopher's standing in the train station, and he's totally overwhelmed, just as he predicted.
- He's dizzy and nauseous, and feels like he's standing on the edge of a cliff. He's having a really hard time thinking straight with all this, and he just wants to go home.
- He finds a table in a corner, closes his eyes, and tries to do some math problems to calm down. (That's Shmoop's favorite calming trick, too…)
- When he opens his eyes again, there's a policeman standing above him. It turns out Christopher has been sitting there for two and a half hours now. Time flies when you're doing math.
- Christopher wonders if he should tell the policeman about his father killing Wellington.
- Instead, he tells him that he's going to see his mother in London, but doesn't know how to get there.
- The policeman helps him use his father's bank card to get some money – thank goodness for the help. Christopher doesn't even know that "quid" is slang for "pounds," (kind of like "buck" and "dollar").
- Christopher leaves the policeman and goes to buy his train ticket. But it turns out that isn't so easy either.
- The man behind the window tells him where to go to catch his train. Christopher is still feeling terribly uneasy, so he imagines a red line along the floor that he can follow to the train, and says "left, right, left, right" quietly to himself, to try and calm down (191.104).
- A couple of people bump into him on his way to the train and he barks at them like a dog.
- Finally, he finds the train, gets on it, and, well, he's on his way to London.
- Christopher likes timetables. In this chapter, he shows us a sample timetable of a typical day at home, and boy is it detailed.
- He describes a timetable as being like "a map of time," helping to keep you from getting "lost in time" (193.4, 9).
- There are a lot of people on the train. Ugh, no one likes a crowded train – especially Christopher.
- Suddenly, he hears someone call his name: it's the policeman from the station. He's breathing heavily, having just run to catch the train before it left.
- He says Christopher's father is at the station, looking for him.
- Uh oh.
- Christopher realizes he's going to take him back to his father, which is totally scary and confusing. After all, policemen are supposed to do good things and Christopher's father is clearly bad. (He killed a dog – hello!)
- So Christopher tries to run away and he screams when the policeman grabs him. Then Christopher breaks the news: he tells him his father killed a dog with a garden fork. Well, then.
- The policeman says they can talk about that once they get back to the station, but it's too late. The train pulls away. The policeman curses, and uses his walkie-talkie to ask for someone to meet them with a car at the next train station.
- Christopher looks out the window as the train flies through town. There's so much stuff zooming by that it makes his head hurt.
- He closes his eyes and counts and groans and does quadratic equations in his head. (Remember those from algebra?)
- Christopher needs to use the bathroom, but he doesn't realize that there's a bathroom on the train. So he holds it for seventeen minutes.
- While he's waiting, he pees in his pants a little. The policeman notices and tells him to go to the toilet (after explaining that there are often toilets on trains).
- Christopher goes into the toilet, but it's way gross: there's even poop on the seat. Gross, indeed.
- Christopher closes his eyes and pees and it goes on the seat, on the floor, and pretty much everywhere else – he was closing his eyes, after all.
- Walking out from the toilet, he notices there are some shelves for luggage. He thinks it would make him feel better if he climbed onto the shelves, because being in enclosed areas always makes him feel safe.
- He pulls a piece of luggage in front of him to make it all dark and cozy and does some more quadratic equations in his head, for good measure.
- The train starts to slow down. The policeman comes looking for him, but once again, Christopher is pretty well hidden.
- Just then a lady comes to take her backpack off the shelves, and sees Christopher. She says that someone on the platform is looking for him, but doesn't give him away. Way to be discreet, lady.
- The doors close and the train starts moving again.
- Christopher doesn't believe in God.
- Instead, he believes that the existence of life on earth is just an accident – a very rare accident, but an accident nonetheless.
- He writes that people who think that humans are better than other kinds of animals are stupid.
- Christopher stays hidden in the luggage racks. He wonders if they've already gone through London, and if he should've gotten off by now.
- The train stops four more times, and then finally it stops and doesn't start moving again. So Christopher gets off the shelf and looks around. The policeman is gone, but so is his backpack, which had food, clean clothes, and math books in it. Bah.
- He sees another policeman, but he decides he doesn't like policemen so much anymore.
- Christopher walks off the train, and again imagines a big red line on the floor for him to follow.
- Someone stops Christopher and tells him there's a policeman looking for him, and he should wait there while he goes to get him.
- But – surprise, surprise – Christopher keeps walking.
- His chest hurts and he covers his ears with his hands. He's completely overwhelmed by all the signs and billboards: the letters start to look like gibberish.
- He's really scared by now so – as has become his custom – he opens up the saw blade on his Swiss Army knife.
- Someone comes up to ask if he's lost. But Christopher doesn't realize that the guy's being friendly, and so he takes out the knife. Naturally, the guy is freaked out.
- Christopher feels awful.
- Soon enough, he sees a sign that reads "Information," so he walks to a lady behind a window and asks if he's in London, and if she can tell him how to get to his mother's address.
- The lady tells him to take the Tube. Christopher doesn't understand, but she explains that she's talking about the subway (or, as it's called there, the Underground).
- As he walks through the station, Christopher is determined to succeed: "And I thought I can do this because I was doing really well and I was in London and I would find my mother" (211.47).
- At the end of the big room he comes to an escalator. This is the first time he's ever seen one, and it seems futuristic, so he takes the stairs instead.
- He ends up in another room in which people are using a machine to buy tickets.
- He watches a bunch of people (forty-seven, to be exact) use the machine and memorizes how they do it. He also watches how they walk through the turnstiles, including how they put their ticket inside and it comes out at the other end.
- Then he does it himself.
- Someone shouts at him to hurry up so he barks back.
- He sees a sign for the Bakerloo Line, which the lady told him to take. He also sees the station where his mother lives: "Willesden Junction."
- This time he has to take an escalator. It's scary, but he does it anyway.
- Finally, he arrives at the train platform. It's narrow and very crowded and he doesn't like it one bit.
- Suddenly, there's a horrible, loud screeching noise – "like people fighting with swords" (211.59) – and a rush of wind. Christopher closes his eyes and groans loudly to block out the noise, but it just keeps getting louder, and Christopher thinks that maybe the station is collapsing and he's going to die.
- Eventually it quiets down, and when he finally opens his eyes, he sees that there's a train right in front of him – that's what was making the crazy roaring sound.
- He also hears a strange moaning sound, "like a dog when it has hurt its paw," and realizes that he's making it himself (211.59).
- The train doors close and the train pulls away.
- More people arrive on the platform and the same thing happens again: another train pulls up, people get on, it pulls away. This happens a few more times.
- Christopher feels sick and sweaty and scared: he just wants to go to sleep so he won't hurt anymore.
- In this chapter, Christopher describes the billboard on the far wall of the platform: it's an advertisement for vacations in Malaysia. Sounds pretty nice.
- Christopher keeps his eyes closed for a long time and he notices that the silences between trains have become longer now.
- Finally he looks at his watch and realizes he's been sitting on the bench for five hours. Time really seems to fly for Chris.
- He also notices that Toby is no longer in his pocket. Uh oh.
- Christopher looks up and sees a small electronic sign showing when the next trains will arrive. This makes him feel a little better, knowing "everything had an order and a plan" (227.6).
- He spots Toby down by the rails, with some regular subway mice. He climbs down to get him, but someone shouts to stop him.
- Christopher ignores the shouting, and tries to grab Toby. But the rat will have none of it.
- As a train approaches, a man tries to grab Christopher off the tracks. (We're officially freaking out now.)
- Christopher is otherwise engaged: he grabs Toby with both hands and the oh-so-sweet pet rat bites him on the thumb.
- The man picks Christopher up off the tracks just as the train approaches. Whew. But instead of being grateful, Christopher screams: when the man picked him up, it hurt his shoulder.
- The man yells at Christopher for going onto the tracks, but Christopher says he was just trying to catch his pet rat. Obvi.
- A woman asks if she can help him, and Christopher tells her that he has a Swiss Army knife that can cut a person's fingers off. Hmm. We're guessing this doesn't go over well.
- Eight more trains come and go, and then Christopher decides to finally get on the next one.
- It's noisy on the train and he keeps his eyes closed. Eventually, they arrive at Willesden Junction. That's his stop!
- He doesn't want to talk to any more strangers, knowing it only becomes more and more likely that he'll meet someone dangerous. But he needs help, so he walks up to a man in a shop and asks him how to get to his mother's address.
- The man tells him that he can buy one of the maps of London he sells in the store. Perfect.
- Christopher sits on the floor of the station and looks in the book of maps.
- He figures out the way, and then walks all the way there: it takes twenty-seven minutes. Whew. He made it.
- He sits down on the ground in front of his mother's place and waits for her. In the meantime, it starts raining and he gets really cold. (It's after 11:30PM at this point, after all.)
- Finally, he hears two people approaching – a woman's voice and a man's voice. It's his mother and – you guessed it! – Mr. Shears.
- Christopher stands up and says to his mom, "You weren't in, so I waited for you" (227.82).
- His mother throws her arms around him. Christopher of course doesn't like that so he pushes her away and falls down.
- She apologizes, saying that she forgot about the "no touching" thing. Instead, she holds her hand with her fingers spread.
- She asks him where his father is and Christopher says he thinks he's at home.
- Then Christopher gives a brief summary of his trip (or, as we prefer to think of it, his wild ride). With a little prodding, he also confesses that his father killed Wellington (who, of course, was Mr. Shears' dog, too, before he left his wife).
- They all go inside, and Christopher's mom runs a bath for him. To make himself feel safer, Christopher makes a mental map of their apartment.
- She gives Toby some food and water. Meanwhile, Christopher gets into the bath, which is warm and nice.
- Christopher's mother comes into the bathroom to talk some more. In particular, she wants to know why he never wrote her any letters.
- Christopher explains that his father told him that she was dead this whole time.
- Wait for it –
- Yep! She's every bit as horrified and saddened as you can imagine she would be.
- She wants to hold Christopher's hand, but he won't let her, and she says that's okay.
- Christopher gets out of the bath, puts on some of his mother's clothes, and heats himself up some tomato soup.
- A policeman shows up at the apartment, and says he has to speak with Christopher.
- Christopher's mother argues, saying he's been through enough, but the policeman insists.
- The policeman asks Christopher why he ran away from home, and Christopher tells the honest truth: because his father killed Wellington.
- Then the policeman asks if he would like to go back to his father or stay with his mother. It's his call.
- Christopher wants to stay and his mom is fine with that: this makes Christopher really happy.
- Okay, then. The policeman says that if his father shows up, they can call the police.
- At 2:31am, Christopher wakes up because people are shouting. One of the voices is his father's. Uh oh.
- A big argument ensues between Christopher's mother, Christopher's father, and Mr. Shears.
- His mother is (obviously) really mad that his father told Christopher she was dead. But his father wants some recognition for having taken care of him all this time.
- His dad insists on speaking to him, so Christopher gets his Swiss Army knife ready. Again – just in case.
- Dad comes in the room and apologizes again and again… and again. He's crying.
- Christopher is frightened and doesn't respond at all (but at least he doesn't stab him).
- Mr. Shears calls the police and they come take his father away.
- Christopher has a recurring dream in which a virus has killed almost everyone on earth. (We think we've seen that movie…)
- Sometimes it's a daydream, but tonight is one of the nights he dreams it while he's asleep.
- The virus isn't a normal virus, but one that's transmitted by "the meaning of something an infected person says and the meaning of what they do with their faces when they say it" (229.2). (Okay, we take it back about the movie… this is way different.)
- Of course, Christopher would have no danger of catching such a virus.
- Eventually (in his dream), the only people left on earth are the people like him. Each of them likes to be alone, and Christopher can walk around freely and do whatever he wants.
- A nightmare to some, but a dream to Chris.
- At breakfast the next morning, Mr. Shears and Christopher's mom get into a little tiff about who long Christopher can stay with them. (Christopher, of course, hears the whole thing.)
- That day, she takes Christopher to go buy some clothes and a toothbrush, but there are too many people around. He starts screaming and she has to take him home.
- At home, Christopher hides in the spare room because he's scared of Mr. Shears.
- When his mother comes home, Christopher tells her that he has to go back home (to his dad's) to take his Math A levels next week. She'll have to take him, because he's scared of his father.
- She's very surprised – and impressed – but says it won't be possible to take him back.
- Late that night, at around 2:00AM, Christopher can't sleep, so he goes for a walk outside. He likes it because it's quieter than usual outside.
- His mother comes running after him, totally freaked out, and makes him promise never to leave the apartment again without her.
- And now for something completely different: Christopher's mother loses her job.
- When Christopher reminds her he has to go home to take his A levels, she tells him she can't think about all that right now and that he should just lay off.
- He realizes he might not be able to take the exam, and feels a terrible pain in his chest – kind of like when the one he had when he was on the train platform.
- The next morning, he stares out the window at the passing cars. He sees five red cars in a row (which would mean it's a Good Day) and four yellow cars in a row (which would mean it's a Black Day) – very confusing. Since he can stare out the window as long as he wants, the system no longer works. Hmm.
- That afternoon, his mother tells him she called the school and arranged for him to take the Math A levels next year.
- Um, not cool, mom.
- He starts screaming and his chest really hurts – he's really, very pissed. In fact, with all this, Christopher stops eating.
- The following day, he takes a radio and tunes it between two stations so all he can hear is white noise. He turns it up really loud and puts it up to his head until it hurts enough that it drowns out the pain in his chest. Well, that's one strategy.
- Mr. Shears comes home drunk and wakes Christopher up to say things like, "You think you're so fucking clever, don't you? Don't you ever, ever think about other people for one second, eh?" (233.48).
- Christopher's mother wakes up and takes him away, apologizing to Christopher.
- The next morning, she packs a couple of suitcases, and she and Christopher drive back to Swindon.
- Christopher says he doesn't want to live with his father and he also reminds her that tomorrow is the day he's supposed to take his exam.
- In response, his mother spills some heavy beans: she says the reason they're leaving is that she's worried Mr. Shears might hurt her.
- Smart lady to get the heck out of there.
- Back in Swindon, his father comes home and he and Christopher's mom begin to argue. That's Christopher's cue to go upstairs, groan, and bangs things to drown out all that noise.
- Christopher's mother comes up to apologize, saying she's trying to do the right thing.
- But all Christopher cares about is taking his A levels. He compares the way he feels to "pressing your thumbnail against a radiator when it's really hot and the pain starts and it makes you want to cry" (233.86).
- Christopher's mother makes him some dinner, but he doesn't eat it. He doesn't sleep that night either.
- The next day, Mrs. Shears sees Christopher with his mother, and she says some mean things to his mom. Man, adults are kind of cruel in this book, aren't they?
- Christopher's mother drives him to school, and meets Siobhan.
- Christopher tells her he can't think straight because he hasn't been eating or sleeping. But Siobhan says he can still take his Maths A levels if he wants.
- He knows his brain really isn't working right, but he still wants to take the test.
- During the exam, he has a really hard time thinking, and it makes him want to "hit somebody or stab them" with his Swiss Army knife (233.107). Luckily, there's no one around to stab (someone really needs to confiscate this knife…).
- That night, at their house, Christopher screams when his father comes home, but his mother tells him he's safe.
- Christopher goes into the garden and stares at the sky. His father comes out, too, and stands there for a long time looking at Christopher. Finally, he punches the fence and leaves.
- The next day, he continues the A level test.
- That night, a taxi pulls up to the house and Mr. Shears gets out, carrying a cardboard box full of Christopher's mother's stuff. He throws it onto the lawn, gets into his car (the one that Christopher's mother had taken) and drives away.
- This is clearly not an amicable split
- Sure enough, Christopher's mother runs after the car yelling obscenities.
- Mrs. Shears watches this from her window: that's some definite schadenfreude.
- The next day, Christopher finishes the exam. Immediately after he's done, his chest doesn't hurt anymore and he can breathe again. Whew – that's some major post-test relief. But he still feels sick, because he's worried he didn't do very well on the exam.
- Christopher's father comes to the house to ask how things went on the exam. Christopher is still scared, but with some comfort from his mom, he tells him he's not sure how it went: his brain wasn't working right.
- His father says "Thank you," in a really sweet and emotional way and then tells Christopher how proud he is of him. Let's savor this moment.
- The following week, Christopher's father tells his mom she has to move out of the house. Problem is, she doesn't have any money to rent an apartment (especially now that she doesn't have a job again).
- Christopher asks his mom if his father is going to go to prison for killing Wellington. Because, you know, if he did, they could live in his house. Unfortunately for Christopher, his mom says no, he isn't going to jail.
- His mother manages to get a job working as a cashier. She also gets a prescription for antidepressants: they help with her depression but sometimes make her feel dizzy.
- She and Christopher move into a very small apartment with a shared bathroom. Christopher hates it, and sometimes he wets himself if his mom is using the bathroom.
- He isn't allowed to be home alone, so when his mother is at work he has to go to his dad's house. When he's there, he locks himself into his room and refuses to speak to his father.
- His father tries to talk to him through the door, and sometimes just sits quietly on the other side of it. At least he's trying – we have to give him some credit for that.
- On a side note, Toby the rat dies. That's all we hear about that.
- Christopher's father says he'll do whatever it takes to get Christopher to trust him again. He even suggests that they make the whole trust-building thing a project.
- Then, in an awesome twist, he shows Christopher that he's bought him a puppy. Puppy!
- The dog comes over and sits in Christopher's lap. He names him Sandy. Good call.
- While they're sitting with Sandy, Christopher's dad says, "Christopher, I would never, ever do anything to hurt you" (233.155).
- We believe him.
- The results from Christopher's exam arrive. Drumroll please…
- He gets an A! Which, if you remember, is the best possible grade. Not too shabby, Chris. He's pretty psyched about it, too.
- Some time later, his mother gets the flu and he has to stay with his father for a few days. But now he feels safe there again because Sandy sleeps in his bed with him. Nothing a little puppy cuddling can't cure.
- He makes plans to take the A level "Further Maths" exam next year, and the Physics A levels the year after that, and he's pretty sure he'll get an A grade in each of those, too.
- Then he plans to move to a different town to go to university, get a "First Class Honours Degree," and become a scientist (233.169). This kid dreams big.
- The reason he knows he can do all of this is because he went to London on his own and found his mother, he solved the mystery called "Who Killed Wellington?," and he wrote a book. And "that means [he] can do anything" (233.170).
- Indeed you can, Chris.
Christopher Boone sees the world much differently from the rest of us, that's for sure. He notices much more of what's going on around him – he's quite the observer, after all – but he can't quite seem to interpret all those detailed observations. This guy is so enveloped by his own vision that he's almost wholly disinterested in the things he's missing. And as it happens, Christopher realizes that his "reality" has actually been built on lies. Much of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of what happens when Christopher is subjected to all the crazy things from which he's been sheltered – that is, reality as most of us know it. Crazy, indeed.
- Christopher's way of seeing the world seems to be both a blessing and a curse. If he had the opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes, and then was offered the chance to either keep looking at it that way or go back to his own original view, which do you think he would choose?
- Christopher claims he has trouble imagining things (7.6). Do you believe him? What evidence is there for and against this claim? What does this say about his relationship to reality?
- Imagine there's someone else at Christopher's school with a similar disorder to his own. Do you think they might be good friends, given that they see the world in similar ways? Why or why not?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher's keen attention to detail means he's really more in touch with reality than with the rest of us.
Christopher sure is missing out on a lot. Reality might be tough to handle, but it's what keeps life interesting.
In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher is isolated, and so totally psyched about it. He doesn't like being around people, really doesn't enjoy talking, and absolutely hates being touched. When he wants to relax, he just crams himself into the smallest space he can fit into, and hangs out there for a few hours. But at the same time, he's deeply connected to the world around him. He understands things that few of us could dream of grasping (for example, astrophysics), and notices his surroundings in more detail than we could ever imagine. In fact, one reason he likes being shut into dark spaces is because he experiences the world around him so intensely that it's simply overwhelming; only with distance can he really relax and process all that information. So in a way, the more isolated he is, the more connected he becomes.
- Christopher prefers to be alone, but knows he's unable take care of himself on his own. Is there a contradiction here?
- When Christopher carries Toby in his pocket, the rat is constantly trying to escape. Why does Christopher want him there, and why does Toby want out?
- Christopher doesn't like to be touched. He also insists that different foods must not touch each other on his plate. Coincidence? We doubt it. Is there anything more we can say about this?
- Why is Christopher okay touching animals, but not humans?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher's isolation is pretty extreme. But we can't help but notice that the people around him are pretty much all alone, too: his father, Mrs. Shears, Mrs. Alexander, Siobhan, Rhodri. No one seems to have a family. In a way, everyone is as isolated as Christopher.
Christopher's self-imposed isolation is only reinforced by his ridicule of his classmates. If he could try to be a little nicer, their positive reaction might encourage him to actually spend more time with others.
Christopher likes for things to be in a very particular order. He doesn't mind the lady who lives next door moving in after his mom dies, just as long as she keeps the jars in the kitchen ordered according to size. He's also very logical about the world, but at the expense of civility and sentiment. (He tells a priest there's no such thing as God because nothing can exist outside of the universe, for one.) These two factors – order and logic –unite in the realm of mathematics, where Christopher is happiest. Bottom line: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time reminds us life is pretty chaotic (and that's so not okay with Christopher).
- When Christopher sees the sign indicating that a train is approaching, he writes that it "made [him] feel better because everything had an order and a plan" (227.6). These words, "an order and a plan," are the words people often use to describe faith in God or religion. Is it surprising that Christopher is so fiercely anti-religion, then?
- Christopher explains his hatred of the colors yellow and brown by writing that "in life you have to take lots of decisions," so "it is good to have a reason why you hate some things and you like others" (131.1). But does he give any valid reasons for hating these colors? Or is it just an arbitrary way to impose order on things?
- Christopher likes things to be in a very specific order. Do you imagine that he's given any thought about the best order for things to be in, or does he simply attach to the way things are the first time he encounters them?
- When Christopher learns that his father killed Wellington, he uses logic to deduce that he's therefore capable of killing Christopher, too. But this ignores the fact that his father has cared for him for years and years, and consistently reassured him of his love for him. So is this assumption logical or illogical?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher always has to reestablish an order to things in a way that's familiar to him – order is even more important to him than love.
Christopher's preference for plastic over wood (131.1) represents a preference for man-made things over natural things, and a preference for the known quantities of the assembly line over the spontaneity of nature.
The world is a dangerous place – at least according to Christopher Boone, who sees danger in anything and everything that's unfamiliar to him. Most of the time he's okay since he makes sure to stay within his comfort zone. But, halfway through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, circumstances force him to bravely thrust himself outside that bubble, and the world he finds outside is a scary place indeed. Why is it so scary? One could argue that it has a lot to do with the degree to which Christopher is able to control every aspect of his daily life, and predict every event sneaking up around the corner. When that tight control is taken away, he's absolutely paralyzed by fear. And we all know that "tight control" is simply impossible to achieve all the time.
- Why does Christopher assume the worst of strangers? Does this stem from something he's been taught? Or from his general distrust of unfamiliar things?
- When writing about heaven (61.6), Christopher gives the impression that he isn't at all frightened of death. Is this surprising? Why or why not?
- Christopher suggests he can muster courage at will. (For example, he writes, "if you're going to do detective work you have to be brave, so I had no choice" [67.7].) Why does this work in his neighborhood but not, for example, in the train station?
- Can you think of anything that Christopher's father might be scared of? What about his mother?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher is right to be afraid of his father. If he can kill a dog in cold blood, who knows what he's capable of.
Christopher is scared of wide open spaces, yet feels very calm staring into the universe (the very biggest thing of all). This proves that his fears are totally illogical.
Think of the most frustrating conversation you've ever had. Maybe it was with a customer service representative, or the voice on the loudspeaker in the drive-thru. The times when it just seemed like, although you and the other person were technically speaking the same language, you simply couldn't manage to be understood (or understand). This is what it's like for Christopher to talk to, well, anyone. He doesn't know the small quirks of language that we take for granted: the turns of phrase, the sarcasm, the slang, the lingo. You feel for him, because he's trying so hard, so earnestly hoping to communicate effectively. But in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the policeman, the shop owner, and the neighbor are all taken aback by Christopher's flat, straight way of speaking. What effect does this have on Christopher? How would things be different for him if he could better communicate himself, and better understand those around him?
- Christopher's mother wonders in her letters whether Christopher will be able to understand them. And although he never writes back, she continues to write him every week. Does this seem strange? Why is she writing these letters – for Christopher's benefit or her own?
- Christopher writes that when his parents lived together, they were constantly arguing. Do you think this has contributed to his trouble communicating well?
- For someone who has such trouble communicating with people, Christopher certainly succeeds in writing an engaging book. Should we be surprised by his ease with writing? How's written communication different from the spoken kind?
- Compare Christopher's conversations with Siobhan with his conversations with his father. How are they similar? How are they different?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher claims to be unable to do "chatting" (67.67), yet all the quirky asides in his book are essentially a form of chatting.
Christopher says it's easy to communicate with animals because we can always tell what they're thinking. But here's another reason: often, when he speaks to a stranger, that person laughs at him for not knowing slang or for not understanding jokes. So, Christopher really likes talking to animals because they never ridicule him.
You might not notice how often Christopher mentions lying in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – until he's hit with one very big lie that turns his world upside-down. He can't help but take lying very seriously, since he's so dependent on those around him to help him understand the subtle aspects of human interaction. But he allows himself more wiggle room in sometimes telling some fibs, especially when he sets out on his forbidden detective adventure. In a way, we can forgive him, since no one else is dependent on his words like he is on theirs. But it's still rather surprising, the way he twists logic to support his… dishonesty? Can we use so strong a word? We're not sure. Maybe "not-total-honesty" would be better, or "kinda-sorta-lying." But those aren't real words. Can you think of a better way of putting it?
- What do you think of Christopher's claim that white lies are not lies, but that stories and metaphors are lies? More to the point, if someone told Christopher a white lie, do you think he would consider it a lie?
- Christopher's father argues that lying is something that can happen accidentally – that one can stumble into a lie. Do you agree with this position?
- While speaking with his father in the zoo, Christopher equates loving someone with telling him or her the truth. Where do you think this idea came from? Why might this connection be particularly strong for someone in Christopher's position?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher is so focused on getting what he wants that he's blind to his own lies. Even when he learns that his father lied about his mother's death, he's unable to reflect on his own deceitful activities.
Christopher's father was right to lie to his son, since knowing the truth about his mother would make things more difficult and painful for both of them.
It's not so easy to talk about love in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, mostly because its narrator really doesn't understand the concept the way most people do. He has defined a list of behaviors associated with love, so theoretically he can recognize it when he sees it. But this approach really can't come close to truly understanding what love is, and the intangibles of it – the things we simply can't name. So, love in this book is very one-sided: Christopher's parents love their son, but can't expect that love to be returned. If Christopher does love them, it's surely something very different from what they feel. There are also a few examples of unrequited love among the adults, but we're not even going to go there. We're way more interested in Christopher's strong feelings for animals – when he kneels on the ground to hug a bloody dead dog, he can't possibly expect his love to be returned in kind.
- Does Christopher understand what love is? Or is it something he has learned about, like chatting and being polite, but is unable to understand any better than he comprehends either of those?
- If Christopher were to make a list of the things he loves, what do you think that list would include?
- Can we forgive Christopher's mother for leaving him? Did she do it out of love for him, believing that he'd be better off without her?
- The scene in the bathtub (227.123-25) shows that Christopher's refusal to show affection is difficult for his mother. Do you think this is hard for his father, too? Is there a scene to which you can point?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher's father tells him his mother is dead because he assumes he's unable to love, and therefore will be unable to grieve.
Christopher feels love through his connections to animals – particularly to his dog Sandy.
We're dealing with a lot of different factors of freedom and confinement in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. At times, these factors are oppositionally related – that is, more freedom in one means more confinement in another. For example, Christopher thinks most clearly when he's hidden in tight spaces: physical confinement results in mental freedom. His emotional state is trickier, because he's by nature closed-down and internally-focused. His spiritual life is, in one sense, one of boundless curiosity and depth, and in another sense, one of narrow judgmental ridicule. Ultimately, we could say that Christopher's freedom allows him to be confined, as much as his confinement gives him great freedom.
- We don't know much about Christopher's school day. How do you imagine his schedule? Do you think he would prefer a strict structure or a lot of free time?
- Christopher likes being squeezed into tight spaces, but he can't stand being hugged. Why are these things not contradictory?
- Let's say Christopher could choose to live anywhere in the world. Where do you think he would live: somewhere busy and crowded? Or somewhere quiet with lots of open space? Why might this decision be difficult for him?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher much prefers confinement to freedom. Even though he likes to look at the sky, he freaks out whenever he has too much freedom.
After his trip to London, Christopher feels much more comfortable in open spaces.
We're not quite sure how to describe Christopher's self-identification in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Self-centered? Self-involved? Self-obsessed? None of these seem quite right. They all suggest some egotistical prom queen or something, who thinks she's better than everyone else. No, Christopher's focus on himself is almost absolute; he's utterly wrapped within the cocoon of his own mind. He has trouble understanding what other people think, feel, and believe. So his self-identity, his idea of himself, is practically the same as his sense of the outside world too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the things we usually associate with identity – chief among them our faces and our names – are things Christopher doesn't understand, doesn't care about, or doesn't like. This makes sense, because when you think about it, these things are only important as ways for other people to identify us. And Christopher doesn't seem to care much about being identified by other people.
- Is it notable that we don't learn Christopher's parents' names until very far into the story? Or that Siobhan, of all the main characters, is the only one with a unique name?
- As a reader, is it disorienting not to receive any descriptions of what people look like? How does this affect your ideas about them?
- Christopher is unhappy with his name, writing, "I want my name to mean me" (29.10). Can you help him out? Give him a name that means him.
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher's enthusiasm for prime numbers stems from his quest to assert his individuality in an unavoidably alien world.
Christopher's fondness for Sherlock Holmes allows him to reveal his own story of self-discovery through the search for the dog-killer.
Truth can mean a lot of different things. There's "the truth," as in the opposite of a lie, and then there's "Truth" (yes, with a capital T), like the ultimate truth in the universe. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher has something to say about both of these things, and a number of points in between. Much of the time, he's pointing out other people's stupidity in believing things that aren't, um, true. But what does Christopher believe? Does he even believe in things, or does he just believe in the wrongness of other people's beliefs?
- What is the connection between truth and mathematics in the book?
- Christopher describes a conversation he has with a Christian vicar (61.7), during which Christopher denies the existence of God. What do you think Christopher would have to say about truth versus faith?
- Why does Christopher take such pleasure in debunking myths? Does this have any connection to his calling other people "stupid" (139.8)?
Agree or disagree? Try on an opinion or even start a debate.
Christopher isn't angry with his father for lying about his mother's death because he feels betrayed or fooled. More than anything, he's angry because he likes knowing things. He realizes now that he's been kept in the dark, and he doesn't like that feeling at all.
Christopher seems to equate "knowing the truth" with "knowing the answer," like in a math problem, suggesting that the truth is something one can just figure out. But the world doesn't work like that at all.
- This story is told from Christopher's very restricted point of view, basically like a journal. His mother's letters are the only glimpse we get into someone else's thinking. Can you imagine what his father's journal would look like? What about his mother's journal? Siobhan's?
- Imagine if the book had been written with the roles of Christopher's parents switched – if he had been living with his mother and went to find his father. How would the book be different? How would it be similar?
- For someone who has such difficulty communicating, is it a stretch to think that Christopher would be able to write such an accessible book?
- What can we learn from Christopher's affection for animals? Why is he able to connect with them more easily than he can with human beings?
- Christopher has a hard time following social norms. Reading this book, which takes place in England, do you experience any similar confusion or disorientation about the culture? Do you think this is comparable at all to Christopher's experience?
- Do you like Christopher? What about his father? And his mother? Are they good people? Do you sympathize them when they behave unskillfully, or blame them for their shortcomings?
Our narrator is a pretty unique guy. He has a pet rat, seems to drink nothing but strawberry milkshakes, and does high-level math problems in his head… for fun. He also has a disability – unspecified in the book, but that has been elsewhere compared with Asperger syndrome – that makes social interactions very difficult and uncomfortable.
Here are just a few adjectives that come to mind when we think of Christopher:
Notice anything weird about that list? Well, they're all totally contradictory. So we'll be more specific.
He's brilliant, there's no doubt about that – he's just a super-duper math whiz. But he's also totally clueless, unaware of things that, to most people, would be impossible to ignore (for example, his mother having an affair with the next-door neighbor).
He doesn't like people making fun of him, but he says some pretty insulting things about his classmates in turn. As a writer, he comes across really sweet, showing affection for people and animals, for his heroes and his readers. But he also pulls a knife (literally) on a few people, and is quite ready to pull it on his dad. And he's both incredibly sensitive (to the objects in his environment) and insensitive (to the people in his environment).
As a reader, it might be a little difficult to know how to feel about Christopher. We realize his disorder affects his ability to interact with people. But, even knowing this, he sure does some pretty obnoxious things in the book – not only obnoxious, but often quite hurtful to the people who love him (from literally painful, like smashing his mother's foot with a cutting board, to more upsetting, like smashing expensive items in a store).
Yet we can't help but root for the guy.
We also have to point out that Christopher holds himself to a very different standard than he holds other people. He insists that things must be a certain way, and has no appreciation that other people might have different preferences from him, and that those preferences are every bit as valid as his own.
Here's a (pretty big) example: He unexpectedly shows up at his mother's house in London, after not seeing her for two years. She's forced to put everything in her life on hold to take care of him, and ends up losing her job and leaving her partner. Christopher then demands that they return to his hometown immediately so he can take an exam. The notion that this might be inconvenient for his mother doesn't enter into the equation in the least. Of course his mother left him high and dry two years earlier, but this doesn't seem to be his motivation.
This double standard also comes into other aspects of his life: he constantly insists that lying is wrong (and renounces his relationship with his dad over a lie) yet finds all sorts of ways to get around telling the truth himself. He knows perfectly well that he isn't being honest, but is able to get around calling it "lying," which is pretty dishonest in itself, if you ask us.
So, is it unfair to expect more of him, or to hold him accountable for his actions? Is it wrong to even ask these questions? To be honest, we're not really sure. But, of course, it's important to remember that since Christopher is the narrator, the only things we know about him are the pieces he's told us himself.
It's Christopher's narrative style that we happen to find so reassuring, by the way – he writes nothing but clear, direct sentences, not trying to hide anything or even alter the slightest detail. He simply describes the world as he sees it, and then makes judgments based on that info. Although we might disagree with his decisions and tactics, we're never unclear about the motives: for example, we might disagree with his decision to run away from home, but we certainly understand his intense fear, and follow his logic all the way through to his decision to leave.
So, again, the plainspoken honesty of the narration is reassuring. But should it be? Does his honesty contradict the times he seems to be lying in the book? Or perhaps it suggests that while he's always honest with himself (in writing his book), he has zero trouble lying to other people?
For a moment, let's separate Christopher-the-author from Christopher-the-character. Are the two different? Does it seem like the Christopher whose actions we read about is the same as the Christopher who writes about those actions? And how do we deal with the cold distance with which Christopher describes the more emotional moments of the story? They were his emotions, after all.
There are a lot of tough questions when it comes to Chris. But by asking those questions, we get a chance to delve into the mind of a really fascinating dude and think about the world in a different light. So ask away.
Does every protagonist need an antagonist? We seem to remember hearing that once. Well if Christopher is the protagonist, then is his father the antagonist? And if his father's the antagonist, does that make him the villain? We guess what we're really asking here is, is Christopher's father a bad dude?
Christopher sure thinks so, from the second half of the book onward at least, after he finds out his father lied about Christopher's mother dying. Before that, he really doesn't seem to have any opinion of his dad at all, although we can't say we get a very good impression of him from what Christopher does tell us.
And what's up with that? This guy takes care of Christopher, while also busy running his own business (43.3). And most of the time he seems really sweet to Christopher: we love the way he asks his son what he feels like eating for dinner (149.40), and tells him his favorite program is on TV (149.60). But Christopher doesn't appear to have any appreciation of this whatsoever. Interestingly, the most flattering image of Christopher's dad appears in the letters written by Christopher's mom (that is, his father's estranged wife). She praises him for being a wonderful parent to Christopher, and everything she wasn't able to be herself.
Okay, look, we admit that he messes up big time by lying to Christopher, telling him his mother is dead – that is seriously not cool. What do we make of his explanation? It seems like he was at least trying to do the right thing. But what could he possibly have been thinking? What assumptions was he making about Christopher's relationship with his mother, and his ability to process the truth (let alone the lie)? Did he think he wouldn't care? Finally, and most importantly, do we forgive him?
We only hear Judy's name once, when Christopher first arrives in London. Otherwise, we mainly know her as "Mother." For the first half of the book, we think she's dead, since that's what Christopher has been told by his father. In reality, she ran away with the next-door neighbor, Mr. Shears.
So we don't really know much about her until Christopher discovers the letters she's been writing him every week for two years, but that his father has been hiding from him. In the letters, she describes her new life in London and apologizes for leaving him, but also provides some intense self-analysis. She bluntly says, "I was not a very good mother," describing herself as impatient, and admitting she often was really angry with her son. Quite the confession.
When she and Christopher reunite, she's overjoyed to see him again (although horrified that her ex-husband told their son she was dead this whole time). But, despite her best efforts, once tasked with caring for Christopher again, she all-too-quickly shows the same traits she lamented in her letters.
It's through Judy that we get a glimpse of just how challenging it is to care for someone with a social disorder, like when Christopher starts smashing things in a store, or refuses to step onto a bus and insists that they walk miles home. We admire Judy's awareness of her limitations, and her attempts at being a better mother, despite all the difficulties she faces and the craziness spinning around her.
Siobhan is one of Christopher's teachers at school. He seems really fond of her. Although Christopher's father understands him well, Siobhan is the only one who can really speak his language.
Christopher often mentions Siobhan when describing the aspects of human communication with which he has trouble. We assume it's through her that he's at least learned how to be polite and found out about this strange way of talking called "chatting." But our favorite Siobhan moment is when she reads Christopher's detecting book and offers to talk to him if he's feeling sad about what he's learning about his mother.
She probably gets the Sweet Award in this book, and we sure wish she were our teacher. Sigh.
Mrs. Alexander is the neighbor across the street who inadvertently helps Christopher with his detective work. She's noteworthy for a few reasons. For one, she doesn't mean to reveal to Christopher any secrets about his mother – she just can't imagine that he doesn't know she was having an affair with their next-door neighbor. Another thing we notice is that, even though she's a nice old lady, and has a dog, and offers Christopher snacks and things like that, he still completely distrusts her, and is afraid that she might try to hurt him.
Putting these two things together, we could say that Christopher imagines dangers that aren't there, and misses some that really are right in front of him. Mrs. Alexander helps us see this.
Let's talk about Mr. Shears and Mrs. Shears together. Yeah, yeah – we know they're divorced, and it's probably awkward for them to have to see each other socially, let alone share a Shmoop profile. But we think doing it this way makes the most sense, so we'll proceed.
Their story is basically this: Mr. Shears and Christopher's mother run off together. Mrs. Shears and Christopher's father, left behind, try out a romance, too. Mrs. Shears backs out, though, so Christopher's father kills her dog. With a pitchfork. In case we hadn't already mentioned that.
And, sure, if we really got into it, there's probably a scandalous Desperate Housewives-style drama there. But this is Christopher's story, so let's limit ourselves to what this complicated marital strife has to do with him specifically. This is where Mr. and Mrs. Shears look quite similar. Basically, they're both kind of (or very) mean to Christopher. They seem to take out their issues on this poor kid, and they don't hold back – at all.
We can't think of another book with such an uncomfortable relationship with imagery. Just check out this passage, in which Christopher writes directly about his use of imagery in the book:
Siobhan said that when you are writing a book you have to include some descriptions of things. I said that I could take photographs and put them in the book. But she said the idea of a book was to describe things using words so that people could read them and make a picture in their own head.
And she said it was best to describe things that were interesting or different.
She also said that I should describe people in the story by mentioning one or two details about them, so that people could make a picture of them in their head. Which is why I wrote about Mr. Jeavons' shows with all the holes in them and the policeman who looked as if he had two mice in his nose and the thing Rhodri smelled of but I didn't know the name for. (103.27-29)
Pretty cool, right? That's a good starting point for any discussion of the importance of imagery in literature, we'd say. From there we might go one level deeper, and explore the nature of these images, and what they mean on a symbolic level – yes, quite deep.
If we were talking about Shakespeare, say, or The Great Gatsby, this would keep us busy for days and days. But Christopher isn't so interested in that, so let's stay focused here for a second. He goes out to the garden and describes what he sees, and hears, and smells, concluding, "But I couldn't smell anything. It smelled of nothing. And this was interesting, too" (103.39).
For this reason, perhaps the best example of detailed imagery in the book comes from other folks instead. Christopher's mother fantasizes about the man she could have married if she hadn't married Christopher's father:
And he'd be, ooh, a local handyman. [...] And we'd have a veranda with figs growing over it and there would be a field of sunflowers at the bottom of the garden and a little town on the hill in the distance and we'd sit outside in the evening and drink red wine and smoke Gauloises cigarettes and watch the sun go down. (113.11)
Wow, sounds pretty idyllic, right? We simply adore figs… it's pretty easy to see how this is both a nice fantasy to hold onto, as well as a vivid contrast to the drabness of her life and her disastrous marriage.
That said, Christopher's ability to describe the world around him is, paradoxically, limited – rather than truly expanded – by the rather unique way he sees the world. As he says himself, "I see everything" (181.1). He can't simply pluck out a portion of a landscape, or a specific aspect of the environment and focus on that. Nope, he notices every single thing, down to the tiniest detail – and is not very good at knowing which things are more important than others.
The best examples of this arrive in the second half of the book, when he's absolutely bombarded by sensory stimuli, and sees things he's never seen before. Our favorite is when he arrives in London and tries to figure out where to go by reading all the signs surrounding him (211.27). While at first he can read them no problem, soon they pile on top of one another and jumble up all together until they're just a nonsensical block of hieroglyphics, perfectly representing Christopher's mental state.
Christopher pretty much lays it out for us:
Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. (19.6)
Prime numbers are like life. Period. Do you agree? Why do you think Christopher chose to use prime numbers to number his chapters?
Talking about symbolism in The Curious Incident is a little tricky. Christopher goes out of his way to intentionally include some imagery in his book, but symbolism, on the other hand, totally escapes him.
So, occasionally, when we do see symbolic importance in an event, we have to think of the real-life author (i.e. Mark Haddon) at work. One easy example of this is comes near the book's conclusion, when Mr. Shears arrives at Christopher's house carrying a cardboard box filled with his mother's things (233.112). He climbs out of the cab, throws the box angrily into the front yard, and when it lands, a framed photo of Christopher falls out of the box and the glass smashes onto the grass.
Yep, there's no avoiding it – this is some heavy-handed symbolism. It's like in a horror movie, when the young woman says, "I'm just going to go down to the basement to find a flashlight," and thunder booms overhead, lightning flashing in the window. In this case, the photo smashing can point to any number of things:
- Christopher's role in the messy end of their relationship
- Christopher's rekindled relationship with his mother, making photo memories unnecessary
- Or perhaps even Christopher's fragile connection to his own identity (see our section on his identity in "Themes").
What we do know is this moment is not at all unintentional.
Christopher has a system for determining what his day will like, and it all depends on the color of the cars he passes on his way to school. This system is definitely representative of the order and structure that Christopher needs in his daily life in order to not be in constant freak-out mode.
But then, one day, his system gets disrupted:
And the next morning I looked out of the window in the dining room to count the cars in the street to see whether it was going to be a Quite Good Day or a Good Day or a Super Good Day or a Black Day, but it wasn't like being on the bus to school because you could look out of the window for as long as you wanted and see as many cars as you wanted and I looked out of the window for three hours and I saw 5 red cars in a row and 4 yellow cars in a row which meant it was both a Good Day and a Black Day so the system meant it was both a Good Day and a Black Day so the system didn't work any more. (229.43)
Christopher realizes that the rules of his world are no longer useful in this scary new world in which he finds himself. But more than that, this sudden disorder symbolizes the chaos that has taken over in his life where order and logic once reigned.
This book is as inescapably English as… fish and chips, or bangers and mash, or tea and crumpets, or [insert your own favorite quintessentially English foodstuff]. The similarities come up in the little things: Christopher watches David Attenborough on TV (149.60), his mother reads a biography of Princess Diana (233.112), and his father insists on staying home on a Saturday to watch a football (as in, soccer) match between England and Romania (67.1). However, we can assume Christopher has no sense of being English, and no connection to his fellow Englishmen in general.
This puts him in an interesting position of presenting an accurate picture of life in his home country, while also being completely unaware that English culture might in any way be unique. Surely he would notice, if he went somewhere else, that things there were different, and he would probably call those things "weird" and have a difficult time with them. That said, he does recall having once been to France, but only mentions their speaking a different language (67.4). His conclusion from that experience is to come away simply "Hating France" (73.2). And, really, what's more English than that?
Back to the details, though. The first half of the book takes place within a remarkably small area – what Christopher himself describes as "home, or school, or the bus, or the shop, or the street" (181.2). These are the places where he feels comfortable, because, as he claims, "I have seen almost everything in it beforehand and all I have to do is to look at the things that have changed or moved" (181.2). Christopher's familiarity with these places comes through in his writing – his familiarity is somehow contagious, and even without much by way of detailed description, we feel like we know them ourselves.
As he moves outward in concentric circles of unfamiliarity, he draws us diagrams of these new places. While these new maps supposedly help us know these places better (for example, the layout of his neighborhood), they also really heighten what uncharted territories they are.
In the second half of the book, when Christopher tries to step outside of this familiar space, he's completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliar things: not only their number, but their size and intensity. And the way he describes things is accordingly wrapped in a mixed-up confusion. The diagrams get more and more complicated (for example, the train station) and then devolve into lists of postal codes, like "London NW2 5NG" (211.40), and subway stops (211.54).
If you read our thoughts on "Why Should I Care?", you know how important the narrator is to this story. Actually, if you read the book, you know how important the narrator is to this story.
Christopher Boone is a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome. We dare you to find another book told from that point-of-view. This kid sees the world in a way we would never imagine on our own, and because the story is told in the first person, we get a VIP pass into his brain.
How would this story be different if it were told in the third person and we only heard about Christopher instead of from him? Reading Christopher's own take on the world helps us empathize with him, sure, but it also opens our minds to the possibility of seeing the world through a different lens. And that's an opportunity we'll seize, thank you very much.
This one's not too tough. Even our narrator knows he's detached:
These are some of my Behavioural Problems A. Not talking to people for a long time [...] K. Not noticing that people are angry with me. (73.2)
He doesn't like "chatting" or talking to people in general, and he hates being touched. He can't identify emotions in others, and has trouble recognizing them in himself. So it's no wonder that his attitude toward everything is pretty distant.
Take a look at this passage:
Father was standing in the corridor. He held up his right hand and spread his fingers out in a fan. I held up my left hand and spread my fingers out in a fan and we made our fingers and thumbs touch each other. We do this because sometimes Father wants to give me a hug, but I do not like hugging people, so we do this instead, and it means that he loves me. (31.5)
This is an incredibly sweet moment, we think. But we get the feeling that Christopher doesn't get that it's sweet. The subtle difference between "we do this instead, because he loves me" (not his words) and "we do this instead, and it means that he loves me" (his words) actually reveals massive difference in tone. He knows what things mean (that's why he's so good with logic), but he just doesn't feel them.
Christopher Boone says what he means – sometimes to a fault. And this matter-of-factness is clearest in his writing style. Yep, that's right – Christopher's writing style, not Mark Haddon's. (We're pretty sure our author, Mark Haddon, doesn't actually write this way.)
We'll throw an example your way, but you could flip to any page of this book and find an equally relevant passage:
But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burnt and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to the ash and I couldn't ask at the crematorium because I didn't go to the funeral. (61.12)
This is some pretty heavy stuff for a kid to think about – his mother's death, that is – but Christopher is still matter-of-fact and very informative. Everywhere in the book, he explains everything in great detail, but never seems to interpret what he's describing. He'd make a great textbook author. What do you say, Chris?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That's quite a hefty title. Let's take a closer look.
Christopher really likes Sherlock Holmes, and he constructs his own book as a murder mystery along the lines of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. As such, he chooses a title similar to Doyle's own, like "The Adventure of the Empty House," or The Hound of the Baskervilles, which Christopher describes at length.
One crucial difference between Christopher's title and Doyle's is that, as his teacher Siobhan notes (7.7), most murder mysteries are concerned with a person's murder, not the murder of a dog. But Christopher argues that the murder of a dog is just as interesting as the murder of a person. Throughout the story, Christopher seems to be able to connect to animals better than he connects to humans, so we see where he's coming from.
We might also point out that in the book's first paragraph, all the elements of the title are introduced and explained: it's shortly after midnight, there's a dead dog lying on the lawn, and the narrator is unsure how and why it came to be there, and why it's dead. The title, perfectly matter-of-fact, is a nice encapsulation of Christopher's "Writing Style."
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has an awesome ending that reminds us of the introduction. That's what we call some satisfying symmetry. We wouldn't expect anything less from someone as math-loving as our narrator, though. What we might not expect is the pretty red bow with which he wraps it up.
To be sure, it's a very happy ending, but it actually comes as a bit of a surprise. Things had been getting worse and worse for Christopher for the whole second half of the book, and then with only a few pages from the end, things still aren't looking so good. He writes, "there were more bad things than good things" (233.137). Among them, Toby dies. (RIP Toby. We hardly knew ye.)
But then everything turns around in pretty short order. What's the catalyst for such a change? Well, let's see. Christopher's father makes yet another heart-wrenching apology, which totally doesn't move Christopher. But then… he buys him a puppy! And Christopher is very, very happy about that. The puppy will have to live with Christopher's father (his mom's place is too small), so that will presumably help them reconnect.
Then Christopher finds out that he got the highest possible grade on his exam. In the months that follow, he begins planting a garden with his father, and studying for the next big math exam. More than anything, though, what makes the ending so joyous, and pretty inspirational, is Christopher's final reflection on his adventure in the book's final sentence:
And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? And I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything. (233.170)
A fine ending, indeed.
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