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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Autism is described as “a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.” In this book, the main character Christopher Boone, goes to a school for students who each have special needs. Christopher has Aspergers Syndrome, which is supposed to be a milder form of autism, but it is still a very difficult disorder to deal with on a daily basis. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a shocking story but also gives an enlightening look at the psychology and medical symptoms of autism.
The word “curious” is an interesting use of words to use within the title. I feel the author, Haddon, wants to convey one of the major characteristics of Aspergers disease, which is one who is very observant and constantly curious-almost to the point of being annoying. Haddon does an excellent job at describing how Christopher is quite different from other children. For example, the author lets the readers know that Christopher had trouble understanding people’s emotions and expressions. Christopher loves to recite mathematical facts and unusual lists of people or places, but he has a great deal of trouble understanding human feelings or relationships. For example, Christopher screams whenever anyone touches him. He is over stimulated and unable to understand that he is not being harmed; rather that touching another person is a human trait or expression of emotion.
It is interesting how the author portrays Christopher’s lack of understanding emotion at the very beginning of his novel. He draws happy and sad faces as the narrator, Christopher, describes that his teacher Siobhan is teaching him emotions by relating the words to pictures of happy or sad faces. “Then she drew other pictures, but I was unable to say what these meant” (3). This is one of the many characteristics of Aspergers that Christopher displayed in the book.
The book opens up with Christopher discovering his neighbor’s black poodle dead in the front lawn with a fork stuck in it. This is a disturbing scene obviously upset Christopher, even though he had trouble showing emotion. Christopher then turns his attention to trying to solve this murder by writing a book and documenting all of the events and findings in it. This builds interest and suspense in the story, while also building the reader’s curiosity on how Christopher might solve this mystery with his limited abilities. We see that Christopher is very smart when it comes to remembering lists or facts so it is not out of the realm of possibility that he might really solve this murder of his neighbor’s dog.
The author shows the different relationships of Christopher including his dad, who is not honest with him about his mother or the reason for the death of the neighbor’s dog. Christopher has a close relationship with his mentor and teacher Siobhan. And the author also shows other characters that honestly care for Christopher like his neighbors and his mom, who he discovers is alive. It was also interesting to see how his mother ends up choosing her son over the relationship with the man she had an affair with, Mr. Shears.
One of the major things we see in today’s schools (both public and private) is the student with special needs like Christopher. Autism seems to be more common in the schools and there also seems to be a greater understanding and empathy for this disease. This might be due to better education and awareness provided by medical and educational professionals. Haddon writes on how Christopher’s condition affected his parents’ marriage.
Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, encouraged him to write his book in order to “describe things using words so that people could read them and make a picture in their own head" (67.) This encouraged Christopher to show tremendous details in little things that he would describe such as clothes lines and angles or white clouds that “looked like fish scales.” It was interesting to see that this was one of the behavior therapies that the teacher was helping Christopher with in order to get in touch with his feelings and the world around him. Unless you are surrounded with a family member or friend who has this disease, it is hard to think of ways or therapies to help people with this disease. So, Haddon had a unique way of sharing with his readers how to better help autistic people.
Haddon’s style of writing was very unusual. First, he told the story through the protagonist’s point of view, Christopher, who had Aspergers. Secondly, the author wrote the book using the numbers that only Christopher recognized, which were prime numbers. Christopher was very gifted in math and this was seen in his love for different puzzles and math numbers, like the ones the author used to number chapters of the book. I cannot connect this type or style of writing with any other book I have read because it is written from such an unusual perspective.
The only aspect I did not care for in this book was that the author shared that Christopher did not believe in God. I would have liked to see a deeper spiritual part shown in the novel. Even if the author only chose for the characters to have a slight belief or hope in God, but to clearly announce a non-belief in God was not something I personally liked. After reading a little about the author’s background and profession of atheism, I see why the author chose to profess this through the main character. I understand it, but would have liked to see a different angle taken within the novel on God. And sometimes the novel would ramble into other subjects or stray off topic with run-on sentences or switch fonts. However, I think the author did this to show the readers how an autistic child thinks or goes through a typical thought process.
The author did use the literary technique of irony. For example, Christopher discovered his mother’s letters and that his father had lied to him. This built suspense and a feeling of sadness for the character. Then more rising action and events led up to Christopher running away to find his mom in London. His pet rat almost gets run over by a rain while Christopher has no idea how much danger he put himself in trying to get his rat.
Haddon is a British novelist, who studied English at Oxford University. When he was a young adult, Haddon worked with Autistic children. This experience really helped him form a factual basis or understanding of what an autistic child goes through on a daily basis. It also helped Haddon write this novel, which is written from the perspective of an autistic child. He originally intended for his book to be read by adults, but instead he has seen a great marketing in both young teens and adults. In 2003 and 2004, Haddon won two different awards for this novel including the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
In the end, the author Mark Haddon makes the reader see the world and what is going on in the world through Christopher's eyes. I would recommend this book to others because it really helps us think about what we would do if we had a sibling or friend with this disease. It also made me as the reader more sensitive to others with special needs and I discovered a new understanding about people afflicted with autism, as well as their families who take care of them on a daily basis.