Monday, June 30, 2008
REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Protagonist: 15-year-old Christopher Boone
Setting: present-day Swindon, Wiltshire, England
First Line: It was 7 minutes after midnight.
Christopher John Francis Boone is autistic. He goes to a special school in Swindon, and measures how his day will be by how many red (good) or yellow (bad) cars he sees while sitting on the bus. He eats red-- but not brown or yellow-- food, and relaxes by groaning and doing math problems in his head. He also doesn't sleep very well, and when he finds his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, dead and impaled on a garden fork, he decides to find the killer. Siobhan, his social worker at school, encourages him to write a book about his investigation, and he does-- a book filled with illustrations, math problems and chapters headed with prime numbers.
This is a marvelous book and in no way feels like a first novel. Christopher is one of the best characterizations I've read in a long, long time. Unable to deal with emotion or nuance, he takes everything he sees at face value and that allows us not only to get a razor-sharp picture of him, but all the people he deals with as well. We see how he copes with the world and can anticipate how he'll react to the various situations in which he finds himself. That anticipation also guides us to the people who have to deal with Christopher: his parents who oftentimes seem barely able to hang on, the neighbor whose dog was killed, a little old lady across the street-- they all come to life through Christopher's unemotional eyes. I was completely caught up in the story, alternately wincing and cheering. Unlike him, I can't stand math problems, so whenever he segued into passages of math, I had a very Christopher-like reaction: I wanted to hold my head and groan.
Without a doubt, this is going to be one of my Top Ten books of the year.