Published by Vintage Contemporaries, 2004; 226 pages
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Mark Haddon's debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time caused quite a sensation in the publishing world when it first appeared back in 2003. And rightly so. Not only had he chosen to tell his story from the point of view of his autistic 15-year-old protagonist – something even a seasoned author might shy away from. But the story was also a murder mystery, with all the constraints and limitations that genre imposes. And, as all the accolades have since proven, Haddon pulled it off brilliantly.
The novel is the story of Christopher John Francis Boone and his investigation of the suspicious death of Wellington, a neighbor's dog. He comes upon the dead pet late one night, and is at first accused of committing the crime himself. But once that mix-up is straightened out, he decides to conduct his investigation (in spite of the police "caution" and his father's admonitions) and write up his findings as a mystery novel – just like his favorite book, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and just like Sherlock Holmes, the detective he admires. Along the way, however, Christopher manages to uncover some disturbing secrets relating as much to himself and his family as they do to the murdered poodle.
This is an amazing book – I read it straight through without getting sidetracked by any other books, which is not my usual behavior! And it's very much Christopher's story; most of the other characters are shadowy presences on the perimeters of his world. Fortunately, Christopher is a wonderfully complex creation. Although he attends a "special needs" school, he is a genius at mathematics. He has total recall and can draw maps from memory:
My memory is like a film. . . . And when people ask me to remember something I can simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder, . . . [p. 76]He knows "all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057" – he has chosen to give his chapters prime numbers instead of the usual cardinal numbers, because he likes prime numbers. As he says:
Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. [p. 12]Christopher can't stand to be touched. Too much noise or commotion sends him into a panic. He hates the color yellow. In conversation, he's very literal and can't really engage in small talk or "chat." And while he relates perfectly to animals (he was very fond of Wellington, and he keeps a pet rat named Toby), he is almost completely without understanding of human emotions. Very much like his hero Holmes.
And, also like Holmes, even with all his problems, Christopher emerges at the end of the book as a very sympathetic, engaging individual. He knows he has limitations, and yet he's also very determined and self-reliant. He even displays a strangely appealing sort of wittiness. Though more than a bit off-center, of course. He's one of those characters who make you feel they're going right on with their lives after you close the book on them.