Shawn Sorensen's Reviews > The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
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Feb 24, 13

bookshelves: fiction
Read in July, 2011

I haven’t read a fictional account this heartbreakingly realistic in a long time. Kapitoil was close, but The Curious Incident paints a more complete picture.

The book is from the viewpoint of an teen boy with Asperger's syndrome named Christopher - his mom has recently died and he discovers a dead dog in one of his neighbor’s yards. The short list: he doesn’t read people’s emotions very well (like the android “Data” from Star Trek next Generation, if you will), he hates the colors yellow and brown, excels at math, hates to be touched (enter the fist: he breaks out a pretty nasty uppercut when it happens) and often loses his memory when he gets upset. Like many teenage boys, he dreams of long periods of alone time.

Since he doesn’t care much about other people’s emotions, he goes around knocking on doors in his neighborhood to ask who killed the dog. So he has your attention right away. He’s a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, who he perceives as the master of objective details that others overlook. Except that no one wants to tell him anything about the dog except the kindly, lonely old Mrs. Alexander, who finally breaks it to the boy that his mom was cheating on his dad. Then a lot more rains down.

The dad comes across as calm, especially to a young kid, yet is passive-aggressive person who doesn’t always realize how much clarity his son needs. When he tells Christopher to “drop all this investigation nonsense”, the son considers what he finds out from Mrs. Alexander as “small talk” and not what his dad forbade - “snooping around” the neighborhood asking about a dead mutt.

In fact, the father’s passive-aggressiveness and the son’s determination and objectivity make for heartbreaking tension. The crux of the story isn’t about the dog, it’s what the dad keeps from Christopher “until he gets old enough to understand”. Even though he’s autistic, we find out that Christopher is old enough to know anything - and will go way out of his way to find the truth.

This is a book that doesn’t end neatly and nicely because life usually doesn’t turn out that way. It just sort of ends. We learn a lot about autism, it’s very defined characteristics and why it’s so difficult for ‘normal’ people to be around. There is no one in the story who treats Christopher the way he wants to be treated except a counselor at school.

This is a good story in which we learn a lot about this condition. If the story needs to stall because the narrator is stuck on telling all the facts of a particular situation, then that’s what happens. You don’t necessarily comprehend why everything is written the way it’s written, but it somehow all feels important by the end. I raced through everything regardless.

And the boy’s objectivity lends a prophetic feel to some of the things he says. He wonders why people think they’re superior to animals, for example. His thinking is that in a couple of centuries the human race might evolve to where the human beings of today end up on display in a zoo. And if we all kill each other through war or wearing out the planet, then insects could end up being the most superior creatures on earth. He has interesting theories on the constellations, the Big Bang theory, major religions, etc.

Sure, a general comparison could be made to the movie “Rainman”, except that this book gives complete attention to the afflicted character, Christopher. It breaks down one of society’s more recent creations - the mental institution, one of the big barriers between “us” and “them”. You discover there’s a ton of humanity and things to consider and learn from someone you may have previously been too nervous to be around.
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07/17/2011 page 61
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Leslie Jem Glad you liked it.


Cecily A good review that reminds me that I really ought to reread this excellent book.


Sarah Joyce Bryant Thanks so much for recommending this book to me. You cannot imagine how helpful/eye-opening it was for me since I have an autistic child. I read it in one sitting. Absolutely stunning!


Shawn Sorensen Sarah Joyce wrote: "Thanks so much for recommending this book to me. You cannot imagine how helpful/eye-opening it was for me since I have an autistic child. I read it in one sitting. Absolutely stunning!"

Wow - yes, I almost read it in one sitting, too. I don't know, it's just written in a way where you pull for everyone yet know they can do better going forward. Every single effort counts.

Cheers


Cecily The only aspect I'd quibble with is your mention of Rainman: although both are on the autistic spectrum, there is at least as much difference between autistic savant Raymond and Christopher's Asperger's (for all that Haddon denies the label, psychologists support it) as between either of them and a neurotypical person not on the spectrum.


Shawn Sorensen Cecily wrote: "The only aspect I'd quibble with is your mention of Rainman: although both are on the autistic spectrum, there is at least as much difference between autistic savant Raymond and Christopher's Asper..."

Yes, I was using the words "general comparison" and from the perspective that the afflicted character gets a lot more attention in this book than in the movie I reference. Thank you though!


message 7: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Jama I started this book but never finished it, because I'm always in a least 2-3 books at a time. Your review gave such life to this book and emotion I haven't yet discovered from this read. Thanks for your review!


message 8: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay Simms I really cringe when people say "suffer from Asperger's/Autism."

Signed,
An Autistic Person


Shawn Sorensen Thank You Lindsay,

Hopefully I've changed the review for the better. I can see your beef with the word "suffer" so recommend anything you think I should write.

Thank you again! --Shawn


Aubree Bowling This is a great read for parents of autism spectrum kids. it reminds us just how specific we should be and how words always mean things to our kids.


message 11: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay Simms Thanks so much, Shawn. I really appreciate it.


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