Book review

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

Here's a murder mystery story, told by someone with a different view of life.

Christopher Boone finds his neighbour's dog murdered. It is lying on the front lawn skewered through the heart by a garden fork, and that is a mystery to Christopher which needs to be solved. But Christopher has Asperger's Syndrome. That's a form of autism and it means that he doesn't understand or relate to other people the way most of us do. If he did relate to others better, he might have been able to guess who hated Mrs Shears enough to kill her dog.

As it happens, Christopher can't guess, and so he embarks on a quest to solve the murder mystery, just like his favourite detective character, Sherlock Holmes. For a boy like Christopher, so often confused by other people, this is a daunting undertaking:

I rolled back onto the lawn and pressed my forehead to the ground again and made the noise that Father calls groaning. I make this noise when there is too much information coming into my head from the outside world. It is like when you are upset and you hold the radio against your ear and you tune it halfway between two stations so that all you get is white noise and then you turn the volume right up so that this is all you can hear and then you know you are safe because you cannot hear anything else.

Well, Christopher is Christopher and you might find the way he goes about solving the mystery quite funny sometimes:

And then there was no one else in front of the window and I said to the man behind the window, 'I want to go to London,' and I hadn't been frightened when I was with the policeman but I turned round and I saw that he had gone now and I was scared again, so I tried to pretend I was playing a game on my computer and it was called Train to London and it was like Myst or The Eleventh Hour, and you had to solve lots of different problems to get to the next level, and I could turn it off at any time.
And the man said, 'Single or return?'
And I said, 'What does single or return mean?'
And he said, 'Do you want to go one way, or do you want to go and come back?'
And I said, 'I want to stay there when I get there.'
And he said, 'For how long?'
And I said, 'Until I go to university.'
And he said, 'Single, then,' ...

Or you might not find it very funny at all. You might think it must be very difficult being Christopher. Or you might think it must be very difficult for Christopher's parents.

Whatever you think, I expect you will think a lot about this book, and about Christopher in particular. Because it isn't really a story about a curious incident of a dog in the night-time so much as a story about Christopher, and how he solved the mystery, and he was brave, and he wrote a book and he learned that he could do anything, if he really wanted.

Read it for yourself and see.

What can I read next?

This is quite a difficult book to follow, but what makes it stand out to my mind is the very strong voice of the narrator. It reminds me of this wonderful book by David Klass, about domestic violence, with its heart-breaking mixture of humour and self-mortification:

You might also enjoy this revealing story about mental health by Malachy Doyle:

Or you could have a look at these stories by Virginia Euwer Wolff about a girl who is served up a lemon in life:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time features in these lists: