Darcy'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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Jan 25, 08

bookshelves: mystery-detective

** spoiler alert ** The great think about Curious Incident isn't that it is a mystery story about a boy with Asperger's Syndrome, it's that Mark Haddon does such a great job of reinventing the mystery formula. Let's face it, the Sherlock Holmes stories (which play a pretty prominent role in the novel's construction) are the benchmark by which a lot of detective narratives are mentioned. But they're pretty formulaic, especially in terms of character: Sherlock Holmes is a genius and Watson is a sidekick; Sherlock Holmes is a thinking machine and Watson takes dictation; Sherlock Holmes knows your darkest secrets from looking at your shoes and Watson can't even remember where he was wounded (his arm? His leg?). Doyle needed that structure--he had to have a straight man for his great detective; one who could palm the ace so that the readers could enjoy the pleasure of being told how the crime was committed (as opposed to the pleasure of figuring it out for themselves). After all, Watson always knows the who, what, where, and when, but he's very careful to keep it hidden from the reader by reporting himself as a (let's be honest) bumbling. Who else but a John (or was it James?) H. Watson would be willing to represent himself as perpetually awestruck?

Even though Holmes and Watson perpetually haunt Curious Incident, their roles have been radically rewritten. There's no need for a crime-fighting duo here (a puzzle master and his biographer, the brain and the brawn, or the machine and the lover). Christopher fulfills both those positions and in doing so, repeatedly hides the "whodunit" not from the reader, but from himself. It is this recurring dramatic irony--the reader watching Christopher struggle in coming to grips with the fact that deductive logic alone is not enough in crime solving--that makes the book effective in so many ways. For starters, Haddon is engaging with precisely those qualities that made Sherlock Holmes a literary celebrity. If Holmes truly is a thinking machine, how effective can he really be? When taken to the extreme, isn't Holmes simply Christopher? Or, alternatively, Christopher is what Holmes would be if he were removed from a fictional world in which people can be read like texts, soil can be identified on sight, and monographs can be produced on 140 varieties of tobacco ash. Christopher's world, in other words, simply doesn't measure up to the categories Holmes produces for people. After all, what is a detective to do when deductive analysis cannot filter out motivations for utterly irrational behavior?
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Laia "After all, what is a detective to do when deductive analysis cannot filter out motivations for utterly irrational behavior?"
Ah! What an interesting insight on this book vs. the traditional Sherlock character! Love this.


Darcy Thanks, Laia! I hope you enjoyed the book, as well!


Laia Yes, I did; though I read it quite a while ago. I am looking forward to reading it again for bookclub this month, and see what I get out of it this time coming at it from a different perspective & time in my life. :) And of course to ponder the insights others have.


Darcy Fun! I should go back and reread it sometime--it's a good book. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations, especially since the original Sherlock Holmes stories were also illustrated (although in a very different way). I hope your book club likes it!


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