Click here to read reviewer Phillip Tomasso III's take on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I have never read another novel in which so many sentences began with and, but, or because. You will want to send copies of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to all the English teachers who scolded you for run-on sentences and grammar faux pas. I, too, felt vindicated.
As in all good stories, Haddon's hero must go on a quest, perform daunting tasks and, hopefully, return triumphant. The author knows this well, and his skillful manipulation of plot and character makes this novel a joy to read. The hero in this novel is Christopher Boone, aged fifteen years, three months and two days, and he has autism. He is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock; logic is the be-all and end-all in Christopher’s world. Imagine not being able to understand entendres, metaphors or puns, the words and phrases that pepper our every day conversations, that enrich our language and color our social interactions. Christopher likens it to being stranded in a foreign country with no knowledge of the local language.
The plot appears simple: Christopher discovers his neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, impaled on a pitchfork and decides to find the killer. Christopher’s teacher suggests he turn his investigation notes into a mystery novel in the style of his idol, Sherlock Holmes. Christopher’s account reads like a stream of consciousness – or rather a stream of logic. It is blissful to see the analysis of the social implications of language. For those of us who get a chuckle out of taking a poke at social conventions, it is refreshing to follow Christopher on his adventures, especially those that involve the law.
Christopher is a character who speaks in either breathless paragraphs or short staccato bursts. I adapted quickly to this rhythm and, like Christopher, loathed the banal chit-chat the novel’s other characters attempt. Christopher does not like change, he does not like to be touched, and he does not like France (the latter will surely boost Haddon’s sales in the United States). This makes his quest all the more difficult.
How can a character devoid of emotion evoke empathy? With lines like this:”...all the iron in your blood which stops you from being anemic was made in a star.” There are many moments when Christopher’s application of logic seems profound, yet when he describes the circumstances of his mother’s death his words lose their Zen-like beauty and seem cold and detached. Like Margaret Atwood once said, context is everything.
Not since Carl Sagan’s Contact have I so enjoyed reading about math and prime numbers. Like a complex math problem, this novel is highly satisfying when completed, and yes, the answers are in the appendix.