Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon

Review by Emmanuel W. Kijem for OHL Children Educational Magazine (Lagos, Nigeria)

In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we enter a world of murder and mystery. The storyteller and principal figure is fifteen year-old Christopher Boone who suffers from asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

Christopher lives in a purely left-brain world of strict order and absolute truth. He entertains and consoles himself by manipulating large numbers and engaging in complicated mathematical operations. He loves solving riddles, puzzles and mysteries and knows all the countries of the world including their capital cities. He is obsessive in his pursuit of order and is prone to compulsive behaviour. Colours matter to him very much; yellow and brown are bad. Touch him and he lashes out; he keeps a Swiss knife for self-defence. He has deep knowledge of the universe and the world. People confuse and frighten him. The world to him would be a great place if he was alone and he yearns of being stuck in a spacecraft all alone in space. He simply cannot survive on his own and has a battery of rules he lives by.

His lack of right-brain capacities disconnects him from much of what goes on around him. He does not understand feelings and emotions and generally lacks social skills. He tries to be rational and cartesian in every situation. This does not always work; so he relies on his trusted teacher, Siobhan. She acts like the right-brain he never had, translating and interpreting social situations for him. Mark Haddon’s introduction of Siobhan is brilliant as he uses her to put Christopher’s difficulties in great relief. The contrast in their world views clearly exposes the limited world Christopher inhabits.

The story centres on Christopher’s discovery of a neighbour’s dead dog with a pitchfork through its stomach. He sets out to find the killer and this triggers a cascade of events that unravel the mysteries of the world in which he and his family live. His weaknesses become his strengths, forcing everyone around him to own up to the truth. This generates pain, regret and anger as he turns the status quo on its head.

Mark Haddon has done an excellent job at portraying what has been called the paradox of life – every negative carries a positive; every bad thing is accompanied by a good thing; every bad story carries a good story etc… John F. Kennedy is quoted as having once said: "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters - one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity." In fact, the so-called paradox of life is no paradox at all. It exists simply because we have decided to label things as good or bad; normal or handicapped, black or white etc.. In truth, everything in life is neutral and these labels simply condition us, sometimes positively and often, negatively. Mr Haddon has used Christopher, a severely handicapped person, to expose the no-less severe handicaps of normal people. Christopher is the implacable mirror that forces us to face up to who we really are and our fear of the truth. His struggles show us how far we are all ready to go to avoid or suppress the truth. His weaknesses give us pause and force us to think about each other in very deep ways and to learn how to care for each other. His intellectual exploits are humbling to the average person and his existence summons us all to pay careful heed to what the brilliant Nigeria author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, calls “The Danger of a Single Story.” . She says a “…single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

The author’s introduction and use of Siobhan reinforces this point strongly. The relationship between Siobhan and Christopher resonates throughout the novel as a reference point by which every situation is gauged. Christopher constantly refers to what Siobhan said or would have said. In effect, in their difference, they complete each other. Their friendship is based on trust and is a poignant expression of how we should all relate to one another.

The story delivers several lessons. We are all children of our Creator. We are here for a reason and we simply need to be who we are to achieve our life’s purpose. It is not our place to judge anyone. But we should learn to appreciate everyone for who they really are and trust that they have a noble purpose in life.

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