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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time    by Mark Haddon order for
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This remarkable debut novel is narrated by an autistic child, fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone. Chris is a mathematical genius, whose thinking processes are logical to the exclusion of any empathetic ability whatsoever. This is a boy who is at ease with complex math and scientific theories on black holes, but who cannot bear to be touched and is unable to relate to people, including his parents, at any level. However he does appreciate his pet rat Toby.

The fact that the author has worked with autistic individuals shows in his sympathetic, engaging portrayal. For example, Chris imagines questions as stacking up in his head like loaves in a bakery factory and 'sometimes a slicer is not working fast enough but the bread keeps coming and there is a blockage.' When this happens, Chris curls up and makes 'groaning' noises. He can't tell lies because 'if I think about something that didn't happen I start thinking about all the other things which didn't happen' and this causes overload.

Chris comes from a working class family. Mother died recently and Father, while clearly caring and doing his best, has moments of intense frustration with his son. One morning Chris discovers a garden fork sticking out of the dead body of his neighbor Mrs. Shears' poodle Wellington. After he cuddles the corpse, she assumes him to be the culprit and calls the police, who arrest him. Of course, his dad sorts it out, but Chris is not especially bothered by the incident, simply curious about what happened.

Despite his father's ban on bothering the neighbors, Chris is determined to do some detecting and he sets out to ask questions, Swiss Army knife at hand and Sherlock Holmes' The Hound of the Baskervilles as his model. Chris doesn't learn much about Wellington but does uncover surprising information about his mother and Mr. Shears from old Mrs. Alexander. Then he finds a stack of letters, comes into serious conflict with his father, and runs away to London in a frightening journey of discovery.

I haven't a clue how close to the reality of the autistic experience The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is, but I'm sure it captures at least some of it. Mark Haddon makes readers root for this disadvantaged boy, who dreams about a world with only people like himself, 'who don't look at other people's faces and who don't know what these pictures mean.' He's given us a brilliant, comic-sad coming of age about an extraordinarily brave boy who 'can do anything.'

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