Alex'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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's review
Nov 25, 2007

liked it
Read in November, 2007

It's a rare book that can sit on the bestseller shelf and still call to me... for most tomes, the bestseller label is a big enough turn off to make me never consider it. That being said, I have no clue what made me go for this one. Maybe it was the upside-down dog. Maybe it was the lengthy title. But what I really don't get, having read it, is how it was ever a best-seller.

That's not to say it's a bad book. It wasn't. I'll be honest, I don't know exactly how I feel about it, but it was not bad. It was done well, in fact. It just didn't have many elements that people like in best-sellers. Being done well, for example, is usually taboo.

To start, it's a bit of a challenging read for the DaVinci Code crowd. We have to follow the train of thought of an autistic child, which isn't always as rational as he'd like to believe. Action will go on hold for stretches of time. There are diagrams and math problems. There's bold letters and repetitious breaking-down of everything. Even while some of these elements would make it easier for the normal book buyer to relate to, it's still a style that requires a brain to wrap around.

Also, I found the characters wholly unlikable. Bestseller markets like likable characters. While I was offended and pained and trying to justify the fact that every character sucked at the end of, say, Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Haddon's book is far smaller, so I feel the unlikable characters simply added a unique flavour. Honest, though, outside of minor, flat characters (who are actually the most likable), none of the main adult characters are good people, and Christopher, autistic or not, is a self-centered brat. I know, I'm supposed to have compassion for how unlike other kids he is, but I really don't. He's a huge brat and hyper-intelligent with book smarts but completely naive about real world smarts, which makes his self-important fact-rattling really, really annoying. It's how his character is supposed to be, though, so I can't fault the author. It does lead to another question, though... this is the sort of book where you need to know something about a problem effecting other humans. Is the bestseller public ready to be educated about autism? Who convinced them that disabilities were the new gauche thing to read about?

At the end of the day, it was worth the read. It was a memorable book, and not bad, if not entirely my cup of tea. Still, I'm left wondering how it became so popular. Perhaps James Patterson has a hidden, literary pen name?
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Alex (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex Indeed, and I appreciate that for what it was... My question is more to the tune of: how did THAT resonate with the james-patterson/jennifer-weiner reading masses that normally dominate the bestseller list? I'm all for it being a former best-seller, I'm just not used to the bestseller audience caring about other people, reading anything mentally expanding, or dealing with more complicated prose.

message 2: by Becky (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Becky I totally see what you are saying now:) Great point - good perspective about the best seller list. I appreciate your response!

message 3: by Christina (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Christina And what is wrong with the Jennifer Weiner reading crowd! =o)

I do see what you are saying, a fellow former-booksellers approach to the bestseller list is always comforting. Nobody understands why I have not read The Kite Runner....

message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim I think you miss the whole point about the protagonist being autistic. He probably has Asperger's (an autism variant), so 'fact-rattling' is how he relates to the world.
Of course he's 'self-centered', he has AUTISM.

message 5: by Sharon (last edited Apr 09, 2008 08:00PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sharon Exactly. Well said. Autistics live in world separate from others. The point is (for me) to see how someone very different relates to life and copes, then doesn't cope, then finds a way that works for him to cope again. Sorry. I loved The Kite Runner also.

Alex I'm pretty sure I know what autism is all about. Understanding that doesn't make him any more likable. The fact of the matter is that if some kid started screaming for no good reason, or insisted that he couldn't eat certain colours of foods, or did any number of things Christopher does in the book, you would find him annoying. You can PC your way through it all you want, but if you saw Christopher in your local supermarket, you wouldn't say "maybe that kid's autistic". You'd say "that kid's annoying."

My sister has friends with Asperger's who have read the book and completely identified (as did she, being able to see her friends in it). I appreciate the writing and the characterization. I feel Haddon was skilled in creating Christopher. But you're saying he can't be autistic AND annoying. Sure, the autism explains it, but it doesn't make it likable and certainly not lovable. Even his mother couldn't handle taking care of him, and she is not only fictional and therefore able to be graced with the patience to do so, but she is his mother. Yes, the book portrays autism in a generally realistic way. Yes, Christopher's faults are due to his condition and not things he can necessarily ever change. And yes, it still makes him annoying.

Sharon I'm not trying to be politically correct. Honest. I don't really care what sells or not. I just don't find Christopher annoying. Reading about him makes me sad. I have felt cut-off from people before, but Christopher lives in another landscape altogether, yet among "us." He is separate, with no chance for much connection, and that must feel incredibly lonely and fearful. I respect your right to feel "annoyed" by him. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to feel about Christopher; you find him "annoying," I find him a sad piece of reality. He makes me sad.

message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim OK, Alex, fair point to you: a kid like Christopher would be annoying, but so are half the people who are out walking around. I guess the problem I had with the review was that it reflects attitudes I see in a lot of people (including people who really should know better, like educators). Though Christopher is a fictional creation, he was pretty true to form for an awful lot of kids.

This book has an agenda (and I think a lot of people miss it); it is to get readers to see past the surface of a kid like Christopher and see that he is someone who, though not easy to like, should be loved. That's not PC, that's just ethical behavior.

It's not always easy to see beyond a person's outward characteristics, even harder with someone like Christopher who doesn't have normal patterns of interaction. We say we value substance over form, that character counts, etc., but we don't always act on this.

For me, the book leads to larger point. There are a lot of people, not just on the autism scale, who are different enough to inspire discomfort or invite ridicule. Think about the bookish, dreamy kids at school who were socially awkward and unathletic. In a school setting, it can be Lord of the Flies brutal, but many adults aren't much better. In the book, there was a moment that was small but telling, where the mom's boyfriend picked out Christopher's numeracy for ridicule. It reminded me of what the philosopher Ortega wrote about people feeling threatened by difference and/or superior abilities, wanting to attack or belittle the person with those abilities rather than give respect.

A few words about bestsellers: I used to work in a book shop, and I was appalled by the unwillingness of some people to read a book unless Oprah or the bloody NY Times told them it was all right. That said, what we read for pleasure is a matter of taste. It's wrong to assume that everyone who reads bestsellers does not also read serious or challenging books. I also suspect that some people who read the latter don't do so because they enjoy it.

Ricki I agree with Alex. With autism THAT severe, the person won't be "likable" by regular standards, and will naturally be self-centered and a "brat." Things like generosity, sympathy, and consideration don't exist in a mind like that. By the author realistically portraying an autistic child as being this annoying, and the audience feeling annoyed, we're meant to ask ourselves why we feel that way and whether it's right to consider someone with that problem less valuable, less human, than a person without it.

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