Title: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
Author: Mark Haddon
First date of publication: 2003
Mark Haddon was born in 1962 in Northampton. When he was a young adult in the eighties, he worked with children with disabilities. At that time, the term "autism" was not being used that much yet, so it was not until later that he realized, that a lot of children he worked with were autistic. The knowledge about these children was not the reason for writing this book though, but it did help him to get into the character. Mark also enjoys math, which is very recognizable in the book. Since this subject gave him the rare opportunity of combining his love for math and writing, he took it with both hands. Another aspect of his personal life that can be found in the book is that he is a "hard-line atheist" (that is how he described himself in an interview with The Observer). The main character of the book is also an atheist and even describes religions as being stupid.
"The curious incident" was his first book and in the same year as it was first published, he received the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for it. In 2004 he got another prize for his book, namely the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Overall Best First Book.
My first impression of the book was that it is very straightforward. I immediately liked it, because I could tell from the beginning that the style of writing was nothing like in an ordinary book. Other novels are often very serious and the main characters have a lot of complicated feelings and thoughts. Because the main character has a very clear and logical view on things, the book is not heavy at all, even though the events (like the death of the dog) can be very dramatic. The complicated mind of the main character is usually the thing that makes an ordinary novel interesting, but the good thing about this book is that, even though it is exactly the opposite of such a novel, it is still an intriguing story.
4. The Story
The story is about an autistic boy who lives with his father in Swindon. When a dog gets killed, he decides to investigate the murder and to write it all down in a book. While researching he finds out that his mother, of whom he thought had died two years ago, is still alive and that his father killed the dog, so he runs off to London to live with her.
The story takes place around April 1998. I know this because of the postmark Christopher talks about on page 123.
The biggest part of the story takes place in Swindon and another part takes place in London and between London and Swindon.
The social background that is presented in the story is pretty average. They live in a normal house and his father is a heating engineer.
The main character is Christopher John Francis Boone. He is 15 years old and has Asperger's Syndrome. Therefore, he is very good at math, has a photographic memory, does not like the colors yellow and brown and lacks important social skills. The way he acts can be very weird for the people around him, but he is actually a very logic person. If you read what his reasoning is behind different things, you cannot do anything but agree with him.
Because Christopher has autism, he is kind of a loner. He does not want to be near strangers and his parents are bound to strict rules when it comes to hugging or shouting at him etc. For instance, instead of hugging him, they have to spread their fingers out into a sort of fan and then touch his fingers, if they want to show him they love him. Also, his biggest wish is to become an astronaut, so he can be all alone in space for years without ever seeing other people.
7. Point of view
The whole story is told from Christopher's point of view(so a first person perspective). He also tells the reader in chapter seven that he actually wrote this book, because he wanted to write a murder mystery novel, but that it is about his own life because he cannot make up a story that did not actually happen. The effect that you get is that you get full insight in his complicates mind, that turns out to be not as complicated as you would expect from an autistic person. I really like these kinds of books about "different" people, because you really feel like you learn about the way these people think, instead of reading about a person that thinks just like you do yourself.
The style in this book is clearly different from ordinary books and gives a good view on the way Christopher thinks. He for instance gives a lot of unnecessary details about the things around him. He also tells you every little thing he does. In other books, unimportant parts like 'opening a door' are left out, because naming all those details would get annoying. In this book it does not, because the reader knows that Christopher wrote this story himself and this style of writing fits his character perfectly.
"Then he said that we could go and he stood up and opened the door and we walked out into the corridor and back to the front desk where I picked up my Swiss Army Knife and my piece of string and the piece of the wooden puzzle and the 3 pellets of rat food for Toby and my £1.47 and the paperclip and my front door key which were all in a little plastic bag and we drove home." (page 23)
These kinds of sentences are no exception. The author uses them very often at the end of chapters, when there are a lot of things happening, but they are very unimportant. In this way, he can still tell all the things that happened without boring the reader, because you read it really fast.
Another thing I noticed in the book is that in many chapters, Christopher gets right to the point. He then starts with the main subject of that chapter and then explains it. For instance, in chapter thirteen the first sentence is: "This will not be a funny book" and chapter 29 starts with: "I find people confusing." This describes his direct personality. He always says what he thinks and then starts to explain. This is unlike other people, who begin with their argumentation and then come to a conclusion.
The last thing I noticed is that he never directly describes someone's emotion. When you think about it that is very logical, because he has great trouble figuring out people's emotions, but it is yet another funny difference between this and ordinary books and characters:
"Then father banged the steering wheel with his fist (…) and he shouted, 'I said leave it, for God's sake.' I could tell that he was angry because he was shouting (…)." (page 27)
In an ordinary book, they obviously would have said right away that the father got mad.
Because here the main character is (sort of) the writer of the story, you really cannot get a view of the opinion of the author. What does become clear though is that the writer is very good at capturing the way people with autism think. Therefore, his tone can be best described as realistic. We also knew already that the author, Mark Haddon, worked with autistic children, so we can pretty much assume that attitude towards these people is very positive.
As many things in this book, a simple thing like chapter numbers is made unique. The chapters are numbered with prime numbers. Therefore, the numbering goes like this: 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29 etc. Another structural thing that attracts attention is the use of the two different types of chapters (see: §6). The chapters that have nothing to do with the storyline are clearly separated from the chapters that do. They also succeed each other, so one chapter is about the story, the next about Christopher's personality, the next about the story again and so one. This I personally find really nice, because you get a clear structure that you recognize while you read the book.
The dramatic line:
Introduction: This happens throughout the whole book. The basic information is given in chapter three.
Initial incident: Christopher finds the murdered dog. This happens on the very first page.
Rising action: He finds the letters from his mom and realizes that she is still alive and his father lied to him. His father tells him that he killed Wellington, which upsets him just as much as the lie about his mother. Then he decides to run off to his mother in London.
Climax: He finds his mother and she tells him that he can stay as long as he wants.
Falling action: His father comes to London and tries to win his confidence again. Christopher does not respond to this at first.
Conclusion: His parents get along just a little better and he trusts his father a bit more.
I think the message of the author is: People with autism are not as 'weird' as you may think when you see how they act, because there is definitely a kind of logic behind their actions.
In everyday life, people with autism are often seen by the outside world as being really weird. People often think that autistic people act on strange impulses or things like that. The author shows here that Christopher's actions come from very logic reasoning. For instance, sometimes he sits on the floor and groans. Other people can find this very disturbing, but he only does it when he gets confused and needs to close off from the world for a while. I personally think this is very logical, because normal people do this as well sometimes, but just in a different way.
The title obviously regards the main event in the book that gets the whole story going (if the dog was not killed, Christopher would have found out nothing about his mother.) It again differs from ordinary books, because it is a pretty long title. I think the author made it like this on purpose, to fit the style of writing in the book, in which you can find a lot of long sentences with unnecessary details.
As Christopher says himself in chapter seven: "This is a murder mystery novel." (page 5) Well, if he says so, I guess I have to respect that.j I do want to add the label 'psychological' though. That is after all what the whole book is about; the way Christopher mind works.
14. My own comment
I like the main character a lot. I am in general always very fond of logical thinking people (because I consider myself doing that as well) and I find the way Christopher thinks in a strange way very logical. He sometimes even makes a good point about why normal people do not think or act logical. Another thing we have in comment is that I as well enjoy doing math ánd for the same reason as his (that it is so logical). Also, although he says that he cannot make jokes, I thought the book was pretty funny sometimes and I always enjoy a book with a bit of humor.
I do sympathize with the main character, because I understand (by the way he explains it) why people are so difficult to understand. The way people reason is sometimes very illogical when you think about it and it is thereby understandable why this common kind of reasoning confuses him so much. I also understand that it must be difficult to not be able to do the things that other people do so often: going to other places, taking the train, meeting new people etc.
I would obviously not act like the Christopher, because he is autistic and I am not. If I had found that dog that night, I would have called the police and be done with it. I also think that the situation concerning the mother would have been completely different, because I would have known if my mother ran off to another man.
My first impression has not changed, because the style that I liked so much in the beginning was used consistently throughout the whole book.
I think what I will remember the most is the feeling of suddenly really understanding someone like Christopher. I have read more books in which everything was described by someone with a different way of thinking and the insight that you get is what I always enjoy the most.
The book starts when Christopher finds the murdered dog Wellington on the lawn of Mrs Shears house. He goes over to the dog to hug him, because he likes dogs, when Mrs Shears comes out of her house and sees that her dog is murdered. Of course she assumes that Christopher did it and she calls the police. When they arrive, Christopher lays rolled up in the grass, because Mrs Shears screamed at him and this scared him. The officer asks him a lot of questions, through which he gets very confused and stays on the ground. Then the officer lifts him on his feet, but because Christopher does not like it when people touch him, he hits the officer. He is then arrested for assault and taken to the police station. There they call his father and after a short talk he only gets a warning. While driving back home he tells his father that he wants to find out who the killer is. His father gets very upset and tells him to stay out of other people's business. He decides to do it anyways, because he does not know what his father means by 'other people's business'. He investigates Mrs Shear's garden and asks many people in his street if they have seen anything. He father finds out though and makes him promise to stop his investigation.
A few days later he meets Mrs Alexander, an old lady that lives across the street, at the shop. He asks her some questions despite the promise that he maid and she tells him that his mother and Mr Shears had an affair. He writes it all down in his book, but then forgets the next day that he put the book on the kitchen table. When his father comes home, he finds the book and get really angry. They get in a bad fight and both receive some punches. After the fight, he hears his father throwing his book in the dustbin.
The day after their fight his father apologizes to him and Christopher decides to still continue writing his book, because he likes it so much. He looks into the dustbin first, but when it is not there, he goes through his whole house to find it. Eventually, he looks in his father's bedroom and finds his book in the cupboard. Underneath his book he finds a stack of letters, which are all addressed to him. He reads one and discovers that they are all from his mom. They are very confusing though, because she talks about things she never did before she died, two years earlier. He deduces that the letters must be for another Christopher, but to be sure, he reads four other letters a few days later. While reading the fourth letter, he realizes that his mother is still alive and his father lied to him. His mother left because she started a relationship with Mr Shears. He gets really sick and wakes up a few hours later, when his father comes home. His father sees that he read the letters and apologizes. Then he tells him that he killed Wellington in anger, because Mrs Shears and he had an argument. Christopher gets very frightened and decides that he has to run away to his mom, because he cannot trust his father anymore.
That night, he hides in his garden. In the morning, he waits until his father leaves to search for him and then he starts to walk to his school, to ask his teacher how he can get to the train station. When he gets to his school, he sees his father's van parked outside, so he asks a strange lady where the train station is. This scares him a lot already, because he does not like strangers or going to places he has never been before. He makes his way to the train station and then through it, where it is very crowded. He gets scared because of all the people, so he sits at a table for more than two hours. When he looks up, there is a policeman in front of him. The officer helps him to use his pin card and to buy a ticket. A few minutes later, he gets on the train to London.
On the train, while searching for a place to sit, the officer comes looking for him again. He tries to take him to his father, but at that point the train takes off, so they have to wait for the next stop. When Christopher goes to the toilet on the train, he sees a few shelves with cases on them and he hides in there. When the train stops, the officer cannot find him and gets off the train.
After being on the shelve for half an hour the train reaches London, and Christopher gets off. There are still policemen looking for him, so he walks straight to the information stand. The lady behind the desk tells him which tube to take. He then starts walking and imagines that there is a red line on the floor, telling him where to go, because this makes him feel calmer. He figures out how to buy a ticket and where to go by observing signs and other people. When he gets into the metro station, the noise of the metro scares him a lot. He therefore sits on a bench for five hours, after which he stands up because there are less people. He then discovers that Toby, his rat, escaped from his pocket. He looks for him and almost gets killed while getting on the tracks to catch Toby. A man saves him and he decides to take the next metro. After arriving at the right stop, he gets off the metro, buys a map and walks to his mother's house. When he gets there (around eleven) she is not home, so he waits. After a while his mother and Mr Shears come home. She is of course very happy to see him again and after he tells her that his father lied about her, she says he can stay as long as he wants.
After living with his mother for a while, they go back to Swindon together to sort things out with his father. It does not get better at first though and his mother and Mr Shears break up. In the end, his father gets the chance to rally apologize and he gets Christopher a dog, which he calls Sandy. He concludes his book with the belief that he can do anything he wants, because he solved the mystery of the curious incident and he was very brave while being on his own.
"And he said, 'I killed Wellington, Christopher.' I wondered if this was a joke, because I don't understand jokes, and when people tell jokes they don't mean what they say." (page 150)
This is a very important quote, because this is really big turning point in the story. It is also something that was not very predictable, so as a reader you are kind of surprised.
"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 7,507." (page 2)
I just liked this sentence, because of his weird way of introducing himself. It is also the first sign that you get about Christopher being different.
"And this is when I saw the envelope." (page 118)
This is the very first beginning of the whole drama concerning his mother; when he finds her letters. That is why this sentence is obviously very important.