Thursday, June 14, 2007

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

Christopher Boone, the autistic 15-year-old narrator of this revelatory novel, relaxes by groaning and doing math problems in his head, eats red-but not yellow or brown-foods and screams when he is touched. Strange as he may seem, other people are far more of a conundrum to him, for he lacks the intuitive "theory of mind" by which most of us sense what's going on in other people's heads. When his neighbor's poodle is killed and Christopher is falsely accused of the crime, he decides that he will take a page from Sherlock Holmes (one of his favorite characters) and track down the killer. As the mystery leads him to the secrets of his parents' broken marriage and then into an odyssey to find his place in the world, he must fall back on deductive logic to navigate the emotional complexities of a social world that remains a closed book to him. In the hands of first-time novelist Haddon, Christopher is a fascinating case study and, above all, a sympathetic boy: not closed off, as the stereotype would have it, but too open-overwhelmed by sensations, bereft of the filters through which normal people screen their surroundings. Christopher can only make sense of the chaos of stimuli by imposing arbitrary patterns ("4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks"). His literal-minded observations make for a kind of poetic sensibility and a poignant evocation of character. Though Christopher insists, "This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them," the novel brims with touching, ironic humor. The result is an eye-opening work in a unique and compelling literary voice.

I just finished this book the other night, and have to say that I was pretty impressed that I enjoyed it. (It has been compared to Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and I bloody hate Faulkner.) This book is really interesting and insightful, although there are entire sections of the book that go into detail on math problems, and I skipped those, because I wouldn't understand it anyway. It's an interesting trip inside the mind of an autistic teenage boy, and to observe the world around him through his perspective. If anyone wants to borrow it, they're welcome to do so. (It won't be my pick for book club though, I have another one in mind.)

1 comment:

Bianca said...

I read it last fall, and I liked it too. Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about it but I am looking forward to his new one "A Spot of Bother".