All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I'm not meant to call them stupid, even though this is what they are. I'm meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.
This is one of those books I would never have picked up to read on my own. I think the title has something to do with that, or more specifically, the word "Dog". I don't read books about pets. Because the pets almost always dies and if not, they somehow will make me cry. For some weird reason, I assumed this book had something to do with a pet, even though I'd never glanced at the synopsis. But then, Helen recommended this book some time back, when I mentioned how authentic I found the autistic protagonist in The Kitchen Daughter, so eventually I decided to give it a try when I walked into my local Barnes and Noble the other day. Considering that I typically find it impossibly hard to focus on a book at the bookstore, I was already halfway into this book when I was leaving the store with my copy of this book.
Christopher John Francis Boone is a Savant - he knows the names of all the countries in the world and their capitals; he knows every prime number up to 7,057; he can also solve intense mathematical theorems through complicated proofs. And although he loves animals, he has zero understanding of human emotions. Christopher is autistic. Routine, order and predictability are important to him, and he hates being touched. Christopher has the habit of walking out of his home at late nights, and one day when he does that, he finds that his neighbor's dog has been killed by a garden fork. He is initially blamed for the killing, but then he is let go later. Christopher then decides to do some detecting work to track down the real killer, and even notes down his entire experience down in a diary.
I am always cautious when reading books about autistic characters. I feel that we have too many books about this subject and sometimes the autistic character is just a pawn in a mystery or a thriller or a tearjerker. In that context, it's interesting that Mark Haddon's book does feature a mystery that isn't even the main focus of the book. The mystery about who killed the dog is the core theme of Christopher's book but for the readers, it is just a vehicle to get us to understand how Christopher functions and to give us an insight into his relationships with people. Besides, this is no tearjerker. Sure, the circumstances are sad and there were moments when I wanted to strangle his parents but the book in no way manipulated my emotions.
Even as Christopher goes about trying to find out who killed the dog, the reader is focused more on how Christopher carries it out. His mode of investigation is to walk directly to the front porch of each house around his neighbors and ask if they saw anything strange that night. Moreover, being autistic, Christopher takes phrases and sentences literally. He doesn't understand what is meant by "I laughed my socks off" or "He was the apple of her eye". And when he has consciously accepted a phrase to mean something other than its literal meaning, even if it still didn't make sense to him, he would use that phrase in Title case, like "At Large". There are times when I found him contradicting himself, such as when he says that he cannot imagine things that aren't true or haven't yet happened, but then he does exactly that later (say, imagining himself in a scientific expedition).
I was more impressed with Christopher's ability to manage himself on his own. He does a lot of things on his own that I wouldn't have imagined a kid of his emotional intelligence could do. It did feel a little too convenient though, similar to how conveniently the police never seemed to catch the bad guys until the good guy comes to save the world in a cheesy hero flick, but still on the whole I thought it was executed well mainly because of how well Christopher analyzes his situation and plans his action, less like a conniving criminal and more like an intelligent person.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is written entirely in first person from Christopher's perspective. He isn't aware that he has autism but only states it as special needs. He also attends a school for children with special needs. His entire narration lacks any kind of emotion, and it is in there that the reader feels moved. There are a lot of unpleasant treatments that Christopher receives, even within his whole family - stuff that makes you cringe but totally bounces off Christopher because they are just words to him and their emotional context is lost on him. And although the ending felt a bit rushed to me, I thought this book was a fantastic piece of work about an autistic character.
I picked this book at my local B&N for some over-coffee reading and then ended up going home with it.