Author: Mark Haddon
Publisher: Vintage Books
Published: 2003 (this edition 2004)
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, by Mark Haddon, tells the story of a sixteen year old Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer who discovers a disturbing family secret. As someone with a relative who suffers from the same condition, I was initially concerned over how it would be portrayed, and whether the protagonist, Christopher, would be a realistic representation of someone with the disability. However, I need not have worried. This is a funny book that just happens to have a protagonist with Asperger’s; not a book that is funny BECAUSE its protagonist has Asperger’s. Simply put, we are laughing with, rather than at, the character. Although the plot of this book is rather sparse, and it is more like an insight into the characters’ lives than a detailed account of events, it is still a thoroughly engaging read.
Looking through my notes on this book, it has become apparent I have only really felt the need to comment on two characters- Christopher and his Father. Readers will have conflicting feelings towards the Father character as, whilst he is portrayed as having had an extremely difficult life, it is difficult to excuse some of his actions. Haddon has created the perfect conflicted character, who seems torn between loving and resenting his son. Nevertheless, nothing distracts readers from Christopher himself for too long. He truly is one of the most complex characters I have ever encountered in a novel, as his seemingly blatant displays of emotion really serve to mask deep feelings of emotional turmoil and confusion. One can’t help but sympathise with Christopher, even when his inability to ‘filter’ his words and actions hurt those around him, as he is depicted as someone who is cripplingly aware of his own abnormalities and failings. This book serves as a poignant reminder that this genuinely is how people with emotional difficulties think and behave and that they often do struggle to cope with the world around them, even if some of Christopher’s many ‘quirks’ can be humorous. This book tells the story of someone discovering both themselves and the world around them, overcoming devastating personal difficulties to do so. I won’t give too much away about the novel’s plot twist, which I must confess I didn’t guess, but I will say readers who have grown fond of Christopher will approve of the novel’s ending.
Haddon further deserves credit for the way he has written this novel. The simplistic, methodical narrative seems a realistic representation of how an Asperger’s sufferer would think, particularly one who fixates over logic and mathematics like Christopher. The book is written in a way that lets readers know what Christopher has done when it is abnormal or has affected those around him, but manages to convey why Christopher cannot understand why someone is upset or unnerved by his behaviour. The way the first-person narrative often seems to veer off on a tangent is also realistic, as it shows how his condition can make someone fixate on a particular idea or concept. If Haddon researched Asperger’s and its affects on sufferers before reading this book, one can only assume his research was detailed, as he has succeeded in creating the most realistic, accurate portrayal of the condition I have ever read. If you’ve ever wondered how someone suffering from it thinks, I urge you to read this novel. It’s so well-written that, as I read certain passages, I could genuinely imagine the sufferer I know thinking or doing the things described. In fact, I know he’s already done some of them! I have not said much about the plot of this book, and there really isn’t too much I can say, but I can tell potential readers they’ll will Christopher to succeed in his journey to London. He goes to the city seemingly in search of both mental and physical happiness, and will confirm I felt he achieved both. This book may not have too much of a plot, and what little plot is present revolves around a simple family secret and a boy’s first trip away from home, yet readers like myself can overlook this and see this book as nothing short of a beautifully written, and meticulously planned, insight into how a troubled young man sees the world. This is a must read for anyone who knows anyone who has suffered from Asperger’s, and a genuinely realistic look at how it makes one think and feel. Simply brilliant!
Rating: * * * * * (5/5)