"The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time"

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time by Mark Haddon

How do writers get inside other people's heads? How did Mark Haddon turn his own mind off and start thinking like an autistic boy? I asked a similar question after reading Don Hannah's 'Ragged Islands'. He wrote as an elderly woman looking  back over her life; how was he able to get into a woman's thinking like that? I'm in awe of whatever ability that is whether it's well-honed observation skills, mind reading or some other super power.

Haddon has written a fascinating story from inside the head of Christopher, an autistic 15 year old boy. His beautifully detailed writing makes it possible for the reader to follow Christopher's reasoning step by step, which in turn makes his responses to various people and situations seem perfectly logical. It all becomes so clear. You feel his fear, you feel your mind interpreting things through his need for order and logic, and though you understand the frustration people have trying to work with him, you also feel Christopher's blank response to their frustrations. 

The opening sentence "It was seven minutes after midnight." grabs your attention immediately, but if that doesn't do it for you, seeing the first chapter numbered "2" will. This is Christopher's story and he likes prime numbers, so that's what he used to number the chapters. The eccentricity of that is one of the things that made this story endearing to me.

The writing is clear, honest and oh, so logical - I love it. Sometimes Haddon uses graphics to illustrate how Christopher pictures things in his own mind and I think it works very well. He clarifies the boy's way of looking at things to the point where it seems he's the normal one and all the other characters aren't thinking right.

Overall the story is sad because this boy is so often misunderstood and the other characters' lives get so messed up trying to cope with him. I've read some reviews that said it was funny, but I don't think I'd call it that. Some of Christopher's reactions to other people, some of what he says, made me smile but in a poignant way rather than comical. He is so bright and yet that's not what the world sees in him. I so appreciate an author who can turn my head around and show me life from an angle I haven't bent myself into before.

All of the characters are believable; you can't help sympathizing with them. They make mistakes and bad decisions, but they do the best they can in their circumstances. Like all of us they act out of their own hurts and needs and this rounds out the story, making it true to life. Through the whole book though, it was Christopher I wanted to step into the pages and help. I wanted to be there beside him and explain him to his disheartened caregivers. There was one teacher who seemed to know how to help him and how to calm him when he got upset, and I wondered why the skills she had weren't taught to the parents. On the other hand, that's probably naive. It would have been far more difficult for them than for her because they were with him all the time. For them it wasn't a job, it was their lives.     

The insight you get into the autistic mind is wonderful. Haddon has worked with autistic children so he knows what he's talking about. Autism seen from the outside looks crazy and uncontrollable, but from the inside it makes perfect sense. I can't explain it, but there was a kind of relief that somehow came with learning how an autistic person processes what he sees and hears. I don't know anyone personally who is autistic, so I'm not sure why this should be but I'm grateful to the author for showing me these things. 

If I had to find fault with anything in this book, it's what Christopher has been taught about God. He uses what he believes to be logic to prove the non-existence of God, a thing absolutely unprovable. It has to be a statement of the author's belief because nowhere in the book does the boy have this discussion with anyone, yet he has a fully constructed pat answer to the question. I would have found it more realistic if he questioned the existence of God, but that might not be realistic at all for a person with autism. Perhaps everything really is black and white for them. There is some profanity as well, but it was used in situations of high stress as it might be in real life and wasn't just thrown in for shock value.

I found myself unable to put the book down; I finished it in two sittings. It's a great story, told with innovation and originality. I highly recommend it.

7 comments:

amckiereads said...

Great review, I also loved this book and you really highlighted all the reasons so much more eloquently than I could!

Ordinary Reader said...

Thanks amckiereads. I was so impressed with this book that I've got to buy my own copy. I know I'll be reading it again. Thanks for stopping by!
Dianne

Linda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda said...

I read this book about 6 years ago; its one of my all-time favourites. (I also dislike yellow:-)
I'm glad you enjoyed it too.....excellent review BTW!
(Sorry about deleted post - 2 spelling mistakes!!)

Rachel said...

just stopping by via the hop to say hi!

I loved this book. Great review.

And the plot thickens...

Spudz said...

I enjoyed the book too, but I think there is one place where our opinions differ. I found Haddon often described what an austistic person was doing as if they were thinking it... and I think a distinction should be made.

"I get the feeling from reading this book that Haddon really understood autistic children. I even think that he did a very good job of encapsulating some of the behaviours, actions and emotions of an autistic child, coping with the complex world around them. However, I just do not have the feeling he completely nailed the experience on the head. I don't have much backing as to why I believe this (as I didn't write down quotes this time), but certain things he says and I'm paraphrasing "and then I groaned to drown out the noise," just don't seem to be in a state that I would believe an autistic mind is in. This may be what the autistic child is DOING, but I doubt that this is what he is THINKING."

My review:
http://eclectic-indulgence.blogspot.com/2008/08/curious-incident-of-dog-in-night-time.html

Ordinary Reader said...

Hi Spudz- I've been giving that a lot of thought and I can agree with you to a point. He probably wasn't thinking "I'm groaning to drown out the noise". He might not have been thinking about why he was groaning, but perhaps the author put it in there for the reader's benefit.

When I cry I never think that it's to relieve the tension. I just cry and tension is released. I could write "and then I cried", and a reader would know why because that process is common to all of us. The boy's groaning in not our usual method for drowning out noise, so I think it had to be explained for us, the readers.

In any event I loved the way this child thought. I can understand a bit of what it's like to take things too literally and miss what is being meant, or to do things rhythmically to try to bring some sense of order to my situation. And I completely understand the urge to curl up on the floor and groan to make the noise stop.

I've always wondered if I have a touch of Asperger's. I've had to work very hard to develop the few social skills I have and it still is never easy or comfortable. You wouldn't believe some of the things I've come up with to get through social situations. But, I'm aging and don't really see any benefit in knowing so I've never been tested.

Thanks for your comment. I love having these kinds of discussions with gracious people like you!

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