Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone discovers his neighbor’s dog impaled on a “garden fork” and decides to do some detective work in order to discover the dog’s murderer. Like his predecessor, Sherlock Holmes, he has, “in a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will.” That is because Christopher has a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s often display astounding intellectual capability, while suffering from diminished social functioning. Mark Haddon brilliantly and poignantly captures the thinking process of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome in his debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I can’t imagine how difficult this novel was to write, as Amazon Canada reviewer Jack Illingworth notes, “This is the sort of book that could turn condescending, or exploitative, or overly sentimental, or grossly tasteless very easily, but Haddon navigates those dangers with a sureness of touch that is extremely rare among first-time novelists.”
I once had a student with Asperger’s, and it was interesting to watch him walk down the hall, tracing his fingertips against the wall, clinging to the wall almost, to keep from touching others. He looked only in front of himself, never to the sides, almost not seeming to see the others. Before I taught him, when he was in middle school, he had been known to bang his head on the desk when he answered incorrectly in one of those quiz bowl competitions. Because they knew I’d be interested, my parents sent me a paper clipping of an article about him in their local paper in Macon. It was hard not to think of him as I read this book, though my student is certainly more socially aware than Christopher, who went to a special needs school and only seemed to exhibit high facility in math and science, whereas my student seemed equally gifted in many areas, including my class.
I found the book difficult to put down. It brought my grand total books I’ve read in one sitting up to five. The others are:
- Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody
- The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds
- Home is Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
- The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
What all these books have in common are strong characters that drive the novel to such an extent that I absolutely must see what happens to them. I discovered after I read the book that it had been a Today Show reading selection, which explains why I kept running into references to the book. I must thank my friend, Roger Darlington, for sending it to me in exchange for The Poisonwood Bible, which I sent to him. It was indeed, as you hoped, Roger, a fair exchange. It was nice to have the British version for a couple of reasons: a) the language differences were intact, which made it easier to see the setting as Britain, b) the cover is much better: