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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

January 21, 2013

curious-dog(Note: this review contains spoilers.)

I have to write my book review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with mixed feelings because it is a book with a schtick. I don’t ordinarily like books with schticks, and I don’t ordinarily like mysteries, but I liked this book. Here’s the schtick: the whole story is told from the point of view of an autistic boy, Christopher Boone. One evening Christopher discovers his neighbor’s dog impaled on a garden fork, so he sets about trying to discover who the killer was.

What I didn’t like about the book is that Christopher is a poster boy of high-functioning autism. He has all of the symptoms and all of them have a classical presentation. If you want to get a good idea of Christopher’s personality, WebMD’s entry on Aspberger’s disorder (which is part of the autism spectrum) sums him up a little bit too neatly. I think I know why Haddon is doing this, too. He has an agenda to write the Great Autistic Novel. It’s a perfectly laudable agenda, since people need to be made more aware of this condition and raising awareness through story is a good way to do it. But as a result, I had a hard time believing Christopher as a person and not just a collection of symptoms.

The thing is, though… The thing is, it works. Mark Haddon has written the Great Autistic Novel. Damn it, Haddon, you’re breaking my heart with the end of that book. Christopher’s struggling to do something he’s never done before and to do it independently, and all the while he’s putting his parents through emotional turmoil and he’s oblivious to it. Christopher wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. By the ending, you still don’t know whether he gets to be one, but Christopher does have this to say about it to his school psychologist:

He said that it was very difficult to become an astronaut. I said that I knew. You had to become an officer in the air force and you had to take lots of orders and be prepared to kill other human beings, and I couldn’t take orders. Also I didn’t have 20/20 vision, which you needed to be a pilot. But I said that you could still want something that is very unlikely to happen.

Recommended. But have a box of tissues handy.

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