The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


Mark Haddon




Date Reviewed:

November 6, 2006

don't understand the hype surrounding this book. It has 1224 reviews on Amazon.com as I am writing this, with an average rating of 4 stars. It is placed right up there in the lofty stratosphere of The Life of Pi, The Time Traveller's Wife and The Kite Runner as an excellent example of recent literature, but this book doesn't come close to those wonderful books. This book is described as a mystery, as funny, as moving - but I didn't think it was any of those things. I thought this book was depressing.

The book is written as a first person narrative by Christopher, a 15 year old child with "Special Needs". Christopher has a curious disability: he is unable to understand normal human interactions. He takes everything people tell him at face value, and insists upon certain rules: such as the food on his plate must not touch the other food, nor will he eat yellow or brown food. If he sees yellow cars parked in a row while riding the school bus, then it will be a bad day. If Christopher doesn't get his away, he will scream or groan endlessly. If any stranger touches him, he will react with violence. Christopher is such a handful to deal with that he has wrecked his parents marriage (though he is oblivious to this fact) - his father is now raising Christopher single-handedly. The father is amazingly patient with Christopher's foibles. I could identify with the father character, who is almost saint-like when dealing with Christopher.

One thing I didn't understand is why Christopher is permitted to have a Swiss army knife - he has already shown that he can be violent, and that he doesn't understand social situations. I kept waiting for Christopher to pull out the knife that he keeps handling in his pocket. Christopher often mentions how he is angry, so reaches into is pocket to grip his knife. Early in the book we see him punch a policeman, and he proudly informs us of the time he decked a fellow classmate with a powerful blow Ė Christopher is not a warm loving child, but person growing into a manís strength without any grasp of social fabrics. So why let him have a knife?

Despite Christopher's disability, he is also a math genius. I guess this is supposed to make him a more sympathetic character, but I did not find this believable. Christopher is studying for his A tests, which sounds like the English equivalent of the American math SAT test. There a numerous digressions by Christopher - like his essays on prime numbers or space/time or The Hound of the Baskerville (The title of this book - The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time is from a Sherlock Holmes story). Maybe that stuff is added as filler, the book is only 240 pages long, I read the whole thing in a single day.

The "mystery" involves a neighbor's poodle. Christopher finds the dog stabbed to death with a pitchfork, and decides to investigate, because Sherlock Holmes is his hero (Christopher reads a lot of books, but I wonder why, since he takes everything literally - wouldn't much of the stories be meaningless gibberish to him?). So Christopher begins his detective work, interviewing the neighbors, and records his clues and deductions in a journal. But the "mystery" is solved so easily, so soon in the book, that it is clear that "who stabbed the dog" is not a central element to this story. This is not a mystery, this is a character study of Christopher.

Maybe a sentimental reader would enjoy this book more than I did, but all of my sympathies went out to Christopher's parents, not him. I don't understand the acclaim for this book.