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A Review of Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003)
By Jason Jordan, Dec 27, 2006
Christopher Boone – the main character and narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Vintage, 2003) – has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. As a result, Christopher lacks in social skills but makes up for that particular deficiency by excelling in mathematics. And because I am lazy, here’s the back-of-the-book summary: “Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.” The premise, however, focuses specifically on the death of a neighborhood dog. Because Christopher is curious about the reasoning behind the gruesome death (stabbed with a garden fork) and has an affinity for Sherlock Holmes, he decides to investigate and write a book about the mystery.

While I’m not entirely familiar with the forms of autism, Haddon’s work strikes me as realistic. The reader quickly gets a feel for the way Christopher acts and one of the novel’s strengths is its consistency in relaying details that may seem minute, but mean a whole lot to Christopher. For instance, going along with the notion of prime numbers, the sections are organized accordingly – “2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, etc.” Since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is the book Christopher is writing – metafiction anyone? – he often digresses and explains scientific and mathematic concepts, which, by the end, the reader should have no doubts about his expertise in those areas. Often accompanying the digressions are charts, graphs, and maps. Those usually help explain the concept and lead to additional understanding, even though much of the content is above and beyond most people’s abilities. At any rate, Christopher’s idiosyncrasies shine through time and again. 

The actual events of the story are unpredictable despite the main character’s proclivity for routine. Not only is it difficult for the reader when those around Christopher become frustrated with him over things he can’t control, but the other major/minor characters have trouble dealing with him, too, despite their acknowledgement of his condition and how much time they’ve spent with him in the past. And while Christopher’s social skills are poor, it’s encouraging to note that his math and memorization skills are top-of-the-line. No one, it seems, is great at everything.

Perhaps the reason why The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is so likeable is due to its use of purposeful experimentation. That is, Haddon had a purpose for everything he put in this book, and the reader should easily grasp the reasons behind the various inclusions. In other words, he wasn’t trying to be different for the sake of being different. Still, with that being said, TCIotDitN-t is mostly a bittersweet journey that ends on a positive note, but I have a hard time declaring it more than a really good read. I’d say it’s intriguing and worth the pursuit, though isn’t essential for reasons that I can’t quite pinpoint.

Jason Jordan is many things. He is staff reviewer for this magazine. He was the host of the Bean Street Reading Series. He was an editor of The IUS Review. He has been a featured writer at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana. His writing appears in The Edward Society and The2ndHand. He teaches college writing to college students. His book is called Powering the Devil's Circus and his website is located here. He is a writer.