The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeINTRODUCTION
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is Mark Haddon's first novel written for adults, though the book does appeal to a younger audience. The story is told through the perspective of an intelligent fifteen-year-old boy with autism who includes a variety of clever visuals to enhance his narrative. But Haddon says the novel is not simply about disability: "It's about what you can do with words and what it means to communicate with someone in a book." As noted by Dave Weich of Powells.com, Haddon never actually uses the word autism in the novel.
Christopher Boone narrates this novel after finding his neighbor's black poodle, Wellington, murdered with a garden fork. The book is Christopher's account of his investigation, and as he gets closer to the truth, he begins to investigate the personal mysteries in his family and discovers that the truths his father told him about his dead mother are indeed fiction.
Haddon's unique protagonist Christopher sees the world only in black and white, but through his ultra-rational and un-ironic prism, readers experience the spectrum of the boy's vibrant and vital mind. Many people suffering from autism and related disorders, as well as those who love and care for them, have celebrated the book as an enlightening peek into a mysterious world, though some have found fault with its presentation of the socially alienated. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time also has broad appeal to fiction fans around the world who enjoy the sincere, fresh, and funny whodunit. It is an international bestseller, which garnered a multitude of awards and landed on the prestigious list of Man Booker Prize nominees in 2003.
Born in Northampton, England, in 1962, Mark Haddon made a successful career out of writing children's books before publishing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. In 1981, after receiving a bachelor's degree in English from Merton College, Oxford, Haddon held a variety of jobs, including several volunteer positions in which he helped people with physical and mental disabilities. A few years later, he returned to his studies to complete a master's degree in English Literature at Edinburgh University.
As a student at Edinburgh, he did illustrations for a number of magazines, and he has been a cartoonist for the New Statesman, Spectator, Private Eye, Sunday Telegraph, and The Guardian, where he co-wrote a cartoon strip, Men—A User's Guide.
In 1997, Haddon returned to England, where he won several awards for his involvement in a multitude of television projects, including two British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards and The Royal Television Society Best Children's Drama for Microsoap. He also wrote two episodes for the children's TV series Starstreet and the BBC screenplay adaptation of Raymond Brigg's Fungus and the Bogeyman.
Mark Haddon penned over sixteen children's books before publishing his first novel for adults. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has been published simultaneously in two imprints: David Frickling Books for young adult readers and the Jonathan Cape imprint for adults. The novel has sold co-editions in over fifteen countries and won both the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and a Commonwealth Writer's Award for Best First Book in 2003.
As of 2006, Haddon lives in Oxford with his wife and their son.
Chapter 1: 2
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time begins with Christopher John Francis Boone finding Wellington, his next-door neighbor's black poodle, murdered. The dog is fatally stabbed with a garden fork and left on the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears's house. Christopher discovers the dog and wonders why someone wanted to kill him.
Chapter 2: 3
Christopher digresses from the murder to introduce himself to the reader. He also talks about how his teacher Siobhan showed him, through a series of smiley faces, the way to read other people's expressions and emotions. Sometimes Christopher cannot tell what pepole are thinking, even with Siobhan's helpful drawings. In that case, he simply walks away from them.
Chapter 3: 5
Christopher takes the reader back to the murder. He removes the fork from Wellington and holds the dog close. Mrs. Shears catches him in this compromising position and demands to know what he did to her dog. Christopher does not like her shouting and curls into a ball on the lawn to calm himself down.
Chapter 4: 7
Christopher again digresses, discussing the fact that this story is a "murder mystery novel." He describes the traits of a murder mystery novel and talks about how Siobhan told him to begin his story with an attention grabber. Christopher also mentions that he chose to write about Wellington's murder because he found the dog, and "some dogs were cleverer and more interesting than some people."
Chapter 5: 11
The police arrive on the scene to interrogate Christopher. Christopher hits one of the policemen when the policeman touches him. Christopher does not like being touched.
Chapter 6: 13
Christopher strays from the murder story to tell the reader "this will not be a funny book." He does not like jokes because he "do[es] not understand them."
Chapter 7: 17
Christopher is arrested. On the drive to the police station, he notices the stars and talks about the Big Bang Theory, as well as about how the end of the world will be marked by billions of falling stars. He offers a visual explaining how to view the most stars in our galaxy.
Chapter 8: 19
Christopher explains that he gave the chapters in his book prime numbers instead of regular numbers because he "like[s] prime numbers." He provides two small charts to illustrate how a person can find prime numbers.
Chapter 9: 23
At the police station, Christopher empties his pockets and describes the contents, but he becomes upset when the police try to take his watch. They let him keep the watch and ask him for a family contact. Though Christopher enjoys the small size of the cell, he imagines escaping.
Chapter 10: 29
Christopher thinks about how people are confusing to him because they do not say what they mean, particularly with regard to metaphors. To Christopher, metaphors resemble lies since they do not describe something precisely or truthfully.
Chapter 11: 31
Christopher's father, Ed Boone, arrives at the police station. Ed greets Christopher as they usually do: He spreads the fingers of his right hand spread out in a fan, Christopher does the same with his left, and they touch fingers and thumbs. Both Ed and the policeman ask Christopher about Wellington's murder. Christopher denies involvement, though he does say he meant to hit the policeman because the policeman touched him. Christopher is released from jail.
Chapter 12: 37
Christopher tells the reader why he does not tell lies. Since "there is ever only one thing which happened at a particular time and a particular place," there is only one truth.
Chapter 13: 41
On the way home from the police station, Christopher tells his father that he wants to discover who killed Wellington. Ed angrily tells Christopher to stop pursuing the case.
Chapter 14: 43
Christopher talks about the day his mother went to the hospital. Ed told him she went because of a problem with her heart and did not let him see her. Christopher decided to make a card for her, which his father promised to deliver the next day.
Chapter 15: 47
Christopher explains his "Good and Bad Day system": Seeing four red cars in a row means a day will be a Good Day; three red cars a Quite Good Day; five red cars a Super Good Day; and four yellow cars a Black Day, or a day when Christopher does not speak to anyone and "Take[s] No Risks." Mr. Jeavons, the school psychologist, calls Christopher "a very logical person" and a "very clever boy." Christopher also talks about his Uncle Terry, who thinks Christopher will not amount to much in the future, but Christopher comes to the logical conclusion that Terry is stupid. Christopher outlines his plans to attend university, where he will study mathematics or physics. Siobhan also offers to help him write his mystery story.
Chapter 16: 53
Christopher provides the reader with a visual of the get-well card he made for his mother. His father tells him that his mother died of a heart attack, but the news does not seem logical to Christopher. His mother "was very active" and "ate food which was healthy and high in fiber and low in saturated fat." Christopher asks what type of heart attack killed his mother, and his father does not know. Christopher supposes it was an aneurysm and discusses the term. Mrs. Shears comes to their house and makes dinner. She embraces Ed and plays Scrabble with Christopher.
Chapter 17: 59
Christopher decides to continue his investigation despite Ed's warning to stay out of other people's business. Christopher goes to Mrs. Shears and tells her that he wants to uncover the mystery of who killed her dog. Mrs. Shears balks and says goodbye. Christopher searches her garden shed and finds the garden fork that killed Wellington, but it is clean. Mrs. Shears orders him to leave her property and threatens to call the police.
Chapter 18: 61
In mentioning his mother's death, Christopher muses about heaven, God, death, and cremation. Once, Reverend Peters tried to explain the concepts of heaven and God, but Christopher does not follow the logic. He believes that when people die, "your brain stops working and your body rots." His mother was cremated and he imagines that since some of the smoke from the process went into the air, "molecules of Mother" were falling around the world.
Chapter 19: 67
Though Christopher has been taught not to talk to strangers, he decides to question the people who live along his street about what they saw with regard to the dog's murder. He speaks with Mr. Thompson in number 40, and avoids the neighbors who take drugs in number 38. Mr. Wise and his mother in number 43 are not home. Mrs. Alexander in number 39 invites him inside for biscuits and orange squash juice. When he does not want to go inside with her, she offers to bring the treats outside. He leaves before she can return because he is not sure what she is doing in her house to prepare the treats. Christopher suspects Mr. Shears of the murder and provides a "Chain of Reasoning" for the reader.
Chapter 20: 71
Christopher talks about the special-needs students at his school. He believes the term "special needs" is stupid because every person has special needs. He mentions Siobhan as an example, and how she must wear glasses to see. He discusses taking his A-levels in math and tells the story of how Mrs. Gascoyne, the head mistress, did not want him to take the exam. His father argued with her until she gave in. Christopher plans to acquire his degree in math or physics, then "get a job and earn lots of money."
Chapter 21: 73
Christopher recalls a time when he believed his behavior would cause his parents to divorce, particularly because they would shout about it. He provides a list of his behavioral problems for the reader.
Chapter 22: 79
Mrs. Shears calls Ed Boone about Christopher being in her garden. Christopher tells his father he was doing detective work to find out who killed Wellington. He informs his father that Mr. Shears is the primary suspect. Ed becomes furious and wants Christopher to stop investigating the incident. He makes Christopher promise "to give up this ridiculous game."
Chapter 23: 83
Christopher gives reasons why he would be a good astronaut. He enjoys being in small spaces, would not miss home, and could use his pet rat Toby in experiments. In addition, he would not have to socialize with people, except through transmissions from Mission Control.
Chapter 24: 89
Christopher tells Siobhan that his father does not want him to investigate Wellington's murder any further. After reading his book, Siobhan praises his work thus far, but Christopher is not satisfied because he did not solve the murder. Siobhan tries to help Christopher figure out why his father wants him to stop trying to solve the mystery. Christopher has two Black Days in a row.
Chapter 25: 97
On a Super Good Day, Christopher believes something special will happen. Christopher rationalizes what his father made him promise and, when he encounters Mrs. Alexander at the grocery, asks her questions about Mr. Shears. Mrs. Alexander tells him that his mother was "good friends" with Mr. Shears, and Christopher deduces that they "did sex" with each other.
Chapter 26: 101
Christopher talks about why he likes numbers. He illustrates the "Monty Hall problem," which he read about in the Parade magazine's "Ask Marilyn" column. The problem shows numbers can be complicated, but logical. Logical reasoning brings answers.
Chapter 27: 103
Ed Boone's employee Rhodri is at Christopher's house when he returns home from the grocery. His father asks where he was since he is a bit late. Christopher tells him a white lie. Rhodri gives him a mathematical equation to solve. Christopher thinks about adding more description to his mystery novel, per Siobhan's advice.
Chapter 28: 107
Christopher summarizes his favorite book, The Hound of the Baskervilles. He critiques the bits he likes and does not like. He also lists the clues and red herrings in the novel and compares Sherlock to himself. Sherlock "doesn't believe in the supernatural, which is God and fairy tales and Hounds of Hell and curses, which are stupid things."
Chapter 29: 109
After Christopher shows Siobhan more of the book he is writing, she asks him if learning about his mother made him sad. He says no, because feeling sad is stupid, or illogical. He also shows the reader a picture of an alien he drew in art class with Mrs. Peters.
Chapter 30: 113
Christopher describes his memory in terms of a film. He can "rewind" to particular distinct memories and can recognize people by searching through his mind to see if he met them before. He compares those pictures in his head that are made from real memories to those pictures that are not to figure out how to handle different situations.
Chapter 31: 127
When Christopher comes home from school, he leaves his belongings on the kitchen table, including the mystery book he is writing. While Christopher watches a Blue Planet video, his father arrives home from work and finds the book. Ed Boone becomes furious at Christopher for continuing to investigate the mystery. He grabs Christopher in anger, and because Christopher does not like being touched, they get into a physical fight that Christopher does not completely remember. Ed takes Christopher's book.
Chapter 32: 131
Christopher provides a list of the reasons why he does not like yellow or brown. He also explains why having likes and dislikes is not silly.
Chapter 33: 137
As an apology for their fight, Ed takes Christopher to the Twycross Zoo. Christopher lists his favorite animals and provides a map of the zoo. Ed tells Christopher that he loves him and that he does not want Christopher to get hurt. Christopher does not quite understand.
Chapter 34: 139
Christopher talks about how he likes Sherlock Holmes but not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was spiritual, which is not logical. Doyle said in an article that he believed in the Cottingley Fairies, which were obviously fake.
Chapter 35: 149
Siobhan asks Christopher about the bruise on his face. When Christopher tells her that his father hurt him, she questions him to make sure he is all right. After school Christopher searches the house for his book and finally finds it in his father's clothes cupboard. Christopher also finds a bunch of envelopes addressed to him. When he hears his father come home from work, he takes an envelope and hides it under his mattress. Later when he is alone, he opens the envelope and finds a letter from his mother. She says it has been a while since her last letter because she got a new job as a secretary in a steel factory and moved into a new flat. Christopher is confused. He wonders how it could be from his mother and decides to solve that mystery too. He plans to look at the other letters in his father's cupboard.
Chapter 36: 151
Christopher explains that science will eventually unlock most mysteries and explain phenomena such as ghosts. He uses a variety of charts to explain the fluctuations in the frog population in the pond at his school.
Chapter 37: 157
Six days later, when Ed Boone works late, Christopher returns to the forty-three letters in his father's cupboard and begins to read them. The letters express his mother's love for Christopher as she tells him about her new home, her new jobs, and her memories of him. She regrets not being a good mother and explains that she left because she could not raise Christopher with the kind of patience he needed. Roger Shears was the only person she could confide in about her inadequacies. She had intended to say goodbye to Christopher but his father had not let her. After Christopher reads four letters, he realizes that his mother did not die as his father said. Ed lied to him. Christopher becomes sick at the notion, vomits, and loses track of time. His father finds him and tries to explain while helping to clean Christopher up.
Chapter 38: 163
Christopher explains how people's minds work like computers, "not because they are special but because they have to keep turning off for fractions of a second while the screen changes" and "people always think there is something special about what they can't see."
Chapter 39: 167
Ed continues to explain his actions, and in doing so, admits to killing Wellington. He tells Christopher how Mrs. Shears helped him deal with Christopher's mom leaving, but Mrs. Shears liked her independence and her dog better than she liked him. Christopher becomes frightened by the truth. He can no longer trust his father because his father told a big lie. He is afraid his father might try to kill him. Christopher takes Toby, puts on his coat, retrieves his special food box, and hides in their shed.
Chapter 40: 173
Christopher discusses the truth of stars and how there is not really magic in constellations.
Chapter 41: 179
Christopher spends the night in the shed. He looks to the sky and stars to keep him calm and his mind busy. His father searches for him but does not find him. Christopher thinks about living with Mrs. Shears because she is not a stranger, but Mrs. Shears is not home when he tries knocking on her door. He thinks about staying with Mrs. Alexander, but rules that possibility out because she is a stranger. After much deliberation and two charts, he decides to live with his mother in London.
Christopher is in emotional distress. He tries dealing with it by formulating a plan. He asks Mrs. Alexander to look after Toby. Mrs. Alexander coaxes him to talk everything over with her, but Christopher leaves. He goes to school to ask Siobhan where the train is, but he sees his father's truck parked in front. Afraid and anxious, he gets sick and realizes he will have to ask a stranger for directions. He asks a woman with a little boy where he might buy a map because "ladies are safer." When she learns where he wants to go, she points him toward the train station. Christopher becomes frightened and confused on the way, but he finally finds the station by moving in a spiral path. He provides the reader with a map.
Chapter 42: 181
Christopher provides two lists and a drawing of a cow to illustrate how he notices everything about the world around him. Sometimes he notices too many things at once and it affects his brain like a computer crashing. He has to shut down and reboot. He also clarifies the fact that he does know a few jokes, and he tells one about an economist, a logician, and a mathematician.
Chapter 43: 191
Christopher maps out the train station. He is afraid and confused by the commotion, but he does a math problem, which he illustrates, to clear his head. A policeman questions him about who he is and where he is going. Christopher tells him he will live with his mother. The policeman helps Christopher retrieve money from an ATM and buy a train ticket. Christopher boards a train to London.
Chapter 44: 193
Christopher compares his personal timetable (the timetable he used after his mother left) to a train's schedule. He likes timetables because he likes to know when everything will happen. He considers his timetable "a map of time" that shows "the relationship between the way different things change." He also offers "a map of everything and everywhere" and explains how "time is a mystery." Timetables keep him from getting tangled in the mystery.
Chapter 45: 197
The policeman catches Christopher on the train and tells him that Ed Boone is at the police station waiting for him back in Swindon. Christopher tells the cop that he is going to London to live with his mother and that his father should be arrested for killing Wellington. Christopher screams when the cop tries to touch him. The policeman calls the station and says he will get off at the next stop and bring Christopher with him. Christopher becomes overwhelmed looking out the window and tries to clear his head with a math problem. During the ride, he needs to use the bathroom, which he does not like because it smells like the toilet at his school. He uses the toilet despite his discomfort, and then decides to curl up on a luggage rack where he does more math to keep himself occupied. The policeman hunts for him but does not find him.
Chapter 46: 199
Christopher ruminates on why people believe in God and why there is life on Earth: "the world is very complicated" and nothing "could happen by chance." Christopher thinks people should think logically about the subject and see that life "just happens."
Chapter 47: 211
Christopher remains in his hiding place even though he encounters a few passengers collecting their luggage. When he finally leaves the spot and returns to his seat, he discovers his belongings are gone, along with the policeman. Christopher gets off the train, and he becomes overwhelmed by the noise and confusion of the station. He goes to an information booth and asks how to get to his mother's house. When he provides the address, the lady directs him toward the subway. Though he is frightened, he watches the activity in the station and figures out how to use an escalator, buy a ticket, and find the correct subway line. Once in the correct station, however, Christopher is sickened by the crowded windowless Underground and sits on a bench while waiting for the feeling to pass. He desperately wishes he were home.
Chapter 48: 223
While waiting to get better, Christopher offers the reader a description and a drawing of the advertisement on the wall of the Underground station. He also talks about the meaning of holidays, orangutans, and advertisements.
Chapter 49: 227
After calming himself down, Christopher realizes Toby has run away from his pocket. He decides to look for Toby because the station is no longer crowded. He sees the rat down by the rails and goes to catch him. As a train approaches, a man "with diamond patterns on his socks" warns Christopher and tries to grab him, but Christopher screams. Toby bites Christopher, but Christopher holds tight to the rat with both hands as the train bears down. The man with the strange socks pulls Christopher up from the rails, but Christopher screams at the physical contact. They both fall onto the platform, and though they are safe from the train, Christopher hurts his shoulder and the man scrapes his face. Christopher runs to the bench with Toby, and the man yells at him for his careless actions. A lady approaches to ask if he is all right and tries to touch him, but Christopher screams again. Frightened, he threatens to cut her with his Swiss Army knife. The man and woman leave, remarking on his crazy behavior.
Christopher finally gets on the train to Willesden Junction. Though he does not like the number of people on the train (eleven), he focuses on his surroundings to ease his mind. He illustrates the pattern on the seats and times the arrival at each coming station. He gets off at Willesden Junction and after some deliberation, goes into a little shop and buys a map in a book form, which he likes. He shows the maps of Willesden Junction and his route to get there. He follows his route to his mother's address and reports that "the only interesting thing that happened on the way was 8 men dressed up in Viking costumes with helmets with horns on and they were shouting" and that "he had to go for another wee" and "went in the alleyway." No one answers at his mother's house so he waits by the dustbins until his mother finally arrives. When she sees him, she tries hugging him but he pushes her away. He knocks himself over with the force of the shove. Toby escapes, and though his mother remembers to greet him with a hand gesture, Christopher focuses on catching his rat. His mother asks how he got there and Christopher recounts the story briefly. He also tells his mother that his father killed Wellington and he came to live with her.
Once inside the flat, Christopher makes a map of the house, which he provides in the book. During a bath, Christopher's mother asks him why he never answered her letters. Christopher tells her he thought she was dead and explains how he found the letters. His mother is furious at the news. She asks to hold Christopher's hand, but he tells her he does not like anyone holding his hand. A policeman shows up at the flat to ask Christopher some questions about why he ran away. His mother says he can live with her. In the middle of the night, Christopher awakens to shouting. He hears his father arguing with his mother and Mr. Shears, who lives with his mother. They fight about the lie Ed Boone told about the mother's death and about the mother leaving. Christopher's father tries to talk to him, but Christopher is frightened. After Mr. Shears calls the police, the policeman returns to take Christopher's father away.
Chapter 50: 229
Christopher has his favorite dream: that everyone in the world dies from a virus which is caused by the expressions on people's faces and the only ones left are people like him. He can travel anywhere without fear of being touched or addressed, and he can go anywhere he wants and do anything he wants.
Chapter 51: 233
Mr. Shears does not want Christopher to stay with them for more than a few days. Christopher's mother takes the day off so she and Christopher can buy some supplies for his stay. Christopher becomes upset when the store is too crowded and they return home in a taxi. Christopher's mother leaves him home and goes back to the store where she buys him a pair of pajamas with a star-pattern, which Christopher illustrates. He tells his mother he must go back to Swindon and take his A-level examination in math. His mother says that will not be possible. That night, Christopher takes a walk in the neighborhood when he cannot sleep and hides in a small place. When his mother calls for him, he emerges from the hiding spot, and she tells him not to run off again. The next day while his mother goes shopping, he watches Star Trek videos, and the following day, his mother is fired from her job because she has missed too many days helping Christopher settle in. Christopher reminds his mother he has to return to Swindon to take his A-levels. His mother becomes angry and tells him he must postpone the exam. She feels pressured by his father, who wants to take her to court, and Mr. Shears, who wants no part of the situation. Christopher feels anxious about not taking his A-levels, but his Good Day system does not work in this neighborhood, which makes him feel worse.
To make it up to Christopher, his mother takes him to a hill where they watch airplanes from Heathrow Airport and eat ice cream. His mother tells him that she talked to Mrs. Gascoyne and Christopher will take his A-levels next year. Christopher becomes upset. His mother tries to soothe him with science books and a food chart. Mr. Shears comes into Christopher's bedroom after drinking and threatens Christopher. The next morning, Christopher's mother packs their belongings into Mr. Shears's car, and they drive to Swindon. Christopher hopes he will get to do his A-levels. Ed Boone is surprised to see them in his flat, and while he argues with Christopher's mother, Christopher tries to drown out the noise by playing the bongo drums given to him by his Uncle Terry. Later, when things calm down, Christopher asks his mother if he can do his A-levels, and his mother tells him again that he will have to wait until next year.
When Christopher and his mother get in the car to go to school the next day, Mrs. Shears confronts his mother, and they briefly argue. At school, Siobhan meets Christopher's mother. When his mother leaves, Siobhan says there is a chance he can still do his A-levels if he wants. Reverend Peters acts as the invigilator, or supervisor, as originally planned. Because of the upsetting events of the previous few days, Christopher finds himself anxious during the exam, but he eventually settles down to work the problems. Back at home, Christopher still does not like being alone with his father. Mr. Shears arrives at the house in a taxi and dumps a box of Christopher's mother's belongings on the lawn. Ed Boone asks Christopher how his exam went, and his mother coaxes him to answer. His father appreciates the brief moment of Christopher's attention. His father tells his mother that she has to move out of the house, and she finds a small apartment and a job. Christopher asks if his father will be arrested for murdering the dog, and his mother says it depends if Mrs. Shears presses charges. Christopher's mother's new apartment is small and does not have its own bathroom. Christopher does not like sharing a bathroom with other people. His mother buys him a puzzle, which he illustrates.
Christopher has to stay at his father's house after school until his mother comes home from work. He does not like staying with his father and locks the bedroom door. Toby dies. One day, Christopher's father asks if he can talk with him. He tells Christopher that he wants Christopher to learn how to trust him again. He brings Christopher a dog. Christopher cannot take the dog to his mother's house because the house is too small. Christopher receives an A on his A-level exam. He feels happy and shows this with a smiley face. He names the dog Sandy, and when his mother gets the flu, he stays with his father for three days. He helps his father make a vegetable garden, buys a preparation guide for taking future A-level exams, and reminds the reader that he will "go to university … live in a flat with a proper garden … and become a scientist."
Christopher illustrates his favorite math problem from the A-level exam.
Mrs. Alexander lives at Number 39 Randolph Street. Christopher first meets her as she is trimming her front hedge. She invites Christopher over for biscuits and tea, but he leaves before she can return with the treats because he does not know her well enough and becomes nervous. Christopher meets Mrs. Alexander for the second time at the grocery at the end of his street. He asks her questions to further investigate Wellington's murder. She tells Christopher about his mother's relationship with Mr. Shears. When Christopher leaves town, he asks Mrs. Alexander to take care of Toby, but he ends up taking the rat with him. Mrs. Alexander has a dachshund named Ivor.
Christopher John Francis Boone
Fifteen-year-old Christopher narrates The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time from a first-person point of view. Christopher is autistic, logical, and highly intelligent, and he decides to solve the murder of Wellington, the dog owned by Mrs. Shears, his next-door neighbor. Christopher only likes people who tell the truth. He knows all the world capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. His dislike for the colors yellow and brown sometimes sours his mood. He is interested in astronomy and believes he would make a good astronaut because he likes small, dark places. He enjoys math, mysteries, and maps and uses the skills needed for all three to solve the murder of Wellington. He groans when provided with too much information at once. In the future, he wants to attend university and study physics or mathematics. At the start of the novel, he has a pet rat, Toby. At the novel's close, his father gets him a dog, Sandy.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was released as an unabridged audiobook by Recorded Books in 2003. It is narrated by Jeff Woodman.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was released as an abridged audiobook by Random House in 2004. It is narrated by Ben Tibber and available as a CD or audiocassette.
Ed is Christopher's father. He runs a heating maintenance and boiler repair business with his employee, Rhodri. Ed serves as Christopher's primary caregiver after Christopher's mother leaves the family. To protect Christopher, Ed lies, telling him that she died from a heart attack. In addition, Ed hides the letters Christopher's mother sends to Christopher under his bed. After Christopher's mother left, Ed had an affair with Eileen Shears and, when Eileen did not completely reciprocate his feelings, Ed accidentally killed her dog, Wellington. Ed does want the best for Christopher and encourages him to take his A-level examinations. He buys Christopher a dog, Sandy, to help make up for the lies he told.
Uncle Terry is Ed Boone's brother. Terry calls Christopher a "spazzer," but Christopher believes it is a proven fact that Terry is stupid. Terry has a tattoo on his arm, and according to Christopher, would probably never attend college. Terry works in a bread factory.
Christopher's father, Ed, tells Christopher that his mother died from a heart attack, but in reality, she had an affair with their neighbor, Roger Shears, and moved to London. Raising Christopher was too hard for her to bear; she did not have the patience necessary to deal with his autism. She sent letters to Christopher, which Ed kept hidden beneath his bed. Christopher remembered his mother as a "small person who smelled nice" and "wore a fleece with a zip down the front." She was thirty-eight years old when she divorced Ed Boone and left Christopher. According to Christopher, she "rode a bicycle and ate food which was healthy and high in fiber." After moving to London, she worked as a secretary in a steel factory and then for a "Chartered Surveyors" office.
Mrs. Gascoyne is the headmistress at Christopher's school. Ed Boone struggles to convince her to let Christopher take his A-level exams.
The psychologist at Christopher's school, Mr. Jeavons asks Christopher about his peculiarities, habits, and personal thoughts. He considers Christopher "a very logical person" and a "very clever boy." He "smells of soap and wears brown shoes with approximately sixty tiny circular holes in each of them." Mr. Jeavons understands why Christopher enjoys math, but Christopher does not think Mr. Jeavons knows anything about the subject.
Reverend Peters comes to Christopher's school from time to time to talk about religion. Christopher asks him about heaven and God, but Reverend Peters brushes Christopher off. Reverend Peters is the invigilator for Christopher's A-level examination. He smokes during the exam and reads The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Rhodri works with Ed Boone in Ed's heating maintenance and boiler repair business. He is friendly to Christopher and gives him math problems to solve. Christopher does not like it when Rhodri laughs at him. Sometimes he drinks beer after work with Ed Boone.
Eileen Shears had an affair with Ed Boone after Ed's wife ran off with her husband, Roger. Eileen lives next door and is the owner of Wellington, the murdered dog. Though she took care of Ed and Christopher when Ed's wife left, Eileen prefers her independence and her life with Wellington over a permanent relationship with Ed.
Roger, the Boones' former neighbor, had an affair with Ed's wife. They ran away together to London where Roger works for a bank. Roger has a quick temper and does not want Christopher to stay too long when he arrives in London to find his mother.
Siobhan is a teacher at Christopher's school and also his good friend, though Christopher does not classify her as such. She advises him to write a book that begins with an attention grabber. She has "long blond hair and wears glasses which are made of green plastic." She teaches Christopher about rhetorical questions, holidays, and how to read expressions on people's faces.
Wellington is the dog that Christopher finds murdered. Wellington was a "big poodle" with "curly black fur." Christopher is determined to discover who fatally stabbed him with a garden fork.
Throughout the novel, Christopher Boone emphasizes his inability to tell anything but the truth. "I do not tell lies," he says in Chapter 12:37. "I can't tell lies." The conflict in the book comes from Christopher's desperate attempt to make sense of his father's lies. After Christopher finds letters from his mother in his father's bedroom cupboard, he realizes his father did not tell him the truth about his mother's supposed heart attack. As his father tries to explain that he was only protecting Christopher, another lie is revealed: Christopher's father killed Wellington the dog. Christopher cannot process lies, because he believes that there was "only ever one thing which happened at a particular time and a particular place."
Attention to Detail
Although autism causes Christopher Boone to meticulously note every detail of the world around him with fervent need, the careful attention prompts the reader to examine his own surroundings more closely. Christopher's keen eye and precise plans may appear obsessive-compulsive, yet they teach the reader an important and positive lesson in how to interact with other people, how to experience new places, and how to approach new situations. Certainly not every cow in a field must be counted, but Christopher's reasoning reminds the reader that even those people who are not adventurous and often stay inside their comfort zone have nothing to fear if they plan accordingly and proceed one step at a time. When Christopher becomes overwhelmed by sensory overload at times, he calms himself by solving mathematical equations, counting cows, or looking at the stars. This self-comfort prompts the reader to imagine personal ways that one might handle stressful situations. Even Christopher retreating to a bench at the subway station shows it is possible to manage overwhelming anxiety.
The Order of Life
In an interview for Powells.com, Haddon says,
All of us feel, to a certain extent, alienated from the stuff going on around us. And all of us at some point, rather like Christopher, have chaos entering our lives. We have these limited strategies we desperately use to try to put our lives back in order.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time focuses on Christopher Boone's need to put together pieces of this mystery. He uses his deductive reasoning skills and his keen eye for detail to find the truth, in terms of uncovering both Wellington's killer and his father's secrets. Only when the world encroaches on his personal space or overwhelms him does Christopher lose control.
First-Person Point of View
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is written from the first-person point of view. Christopher Boone writes his personal account of a mystery, the murder of Wellington the dog, and along the way, becomes involved in the mystery of his mother's death. Christopher's first-person account is credible and detailed. Perhaps Christopher's autistic condition allows the reader to easily believe him when he claims that he cannot tell lies. In any case, the vast amount of straight-forward, deductive detail that Christopher provides coaxes the reader into believing his tale.
Prime numbers make up the most superficial structural element of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Because Christopher Boone likes prime numbers, he uses them to order the chapters, rather than cardinal numbers. Prime numbers also reflect the mystery narrative in the novel. In Christopher's opinion, figuring out which numbers are prime is rather like solving a mystery because they "are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away."
Two mystery narratives frame the story: the murder of Wellington and the secret of Christopher's mother's "death." Just as Christopher details the world to move comfortably through it, he must pay attention to the events of each mystery to solve it. The book follows Christopher's process step by step, clue by clue, until the narratives culminate in the truth near the end of the novel. Among the chapters that push the mysteries closer to revelation, Christopher digresses, filling other chapters with personal thoughts on life, God, stars, and white lies.
Throughout the novel, plans, maps, drawings, and other visuals illustrate Christopher's need to physically and mentally record the world and his actions within it. Just as Christopher enjoys timetables because they note "when everything is going to happen," lists and pictures help Christopher remember how to predict and deal with certain situations and things.
Christopher Boone leans on numbers as a logical means to make sense out of the world. When situations, settings, and people confuse or upset him, he turns to mathematical equations to calm himself. Mathematics also represent the future for Christopher; he hopes to pass his A-levels, then go to university where he will study either mathematics or physics and make a new independent life for himself. Numbers also help Christopher keep track of his behavioral problems, his likes and dislikes, and his daily activities.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Christopher Boone notices every detail of the world around him. Though Christopher's autism inspires his attentiveness, every reader can learn from his approach to life. Using Christopher's keen senses as inspiration, write an essay describing your bedroom, your classroom, or your favorite place to a friend.
- Throughout The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Christopher learns how to define and tell white lies. Early in the story, he says he "is a good person" because he "can't tell lies." Christopher defines a white lie as "not a lie at all," but "where you tell the truth but you do not tell all of the truth." Discuss the difference between white lies and regular lies with a friend or small group. Afterward, write an essay that summarizes your thoughts regarding white lies and regular lies. Include a personal experience to illustrate your thoughts.
- The entire novel is written from Christopher's point of view. Think about how this story would be different if it included Siobhan's, Ed Boone's, or even Mrs. Alexander's point of view. Write an essay answering one or more of the following questions: How would having the point of view of other characters in the novel alter the story's credibility? How would having their point of view change a reader's perception of Christopher? How would a different narrative style modify the mystery elements?
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an unusual novel for many of reasons. One obvious difference between this novel and others is Mark Haddon's use of visuals, rather than just text. Write an essay about at least three visual cues in the novel. Discuss how they add an additional dimension to the characterization of Christopher as well as to the development of the plot.
- Do you think that the term "love" applies to the relationship between Christopher and his parents? Between Christopher's mother and Mr. Shears? Is Christopher capable of love as you define it? Divide into pairs and examine these questions by taking turns adopting the perspectives of the pairs of characters in the novel who are arguably joined by love: Christopher and his father, Christopher and his mother, Christopher's mother and Mr. Shears, Christopher's father and Mrs. Shears.
Autism is a brain disorder usually diagnosed in children younger than three. Like Christopher Boone, people with autism typically have problems with social interaction and communication, and changes in routine can often be upsetting for them. Repetitive preoccupations and an obsessive interest in languages, numbers, and symbols also characterize a person with autism. At this time, the cause of autism is unknown, though many experts believe it to be a genetic-based disorder that occurs before birth.
Christopher Boone has a particular form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome, or A. S. His obsession with detail, mathematics, colors, and astronomy, as well as his unwavering attention to routine and violent aversion to socialization, all reflect his condition, though it is unnamed in the novel.
Asperger Syndrome is a form of autism first noticed in 1944 by Hans Asperger, a German doctor. According to Barbara L. Kirby, founder of Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support and co-author of The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome:
[People with A. S.] have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains:
Children with A. S. want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else. Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors. Other characteristics of A. S. include repetitive routines or rituals; peculiarities in speech and language; socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers; problems with non-verbal communication; and clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements.
In The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time, Christopher Boone imagines a future career in mathematics or physics. As Christopher demonstrates in the novel, studying mathematics requires patience, attention to detail, discipline, and keen problem-solving skills. The career office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lists medicine, government, education, environment, scientific writing, and information science as possible fields for students like Christopher who are interested in mathematics as a career choice. People skilled in math can work as computer programmers, accountants, financiers, systems analysts, medical researchers, auditors, cryptographers, teachers, and software designers, to name just a few occupations. A civil engineer, for example, uses math to plan and design transport systems or to analyze construction materials. Comparably, a research scientist might need math to study automobile emissions and alternative fuels.
Christopher Boone's mysterious adventure begins when the dog Wellington, "Not one of the small poodles that have hairstyles but a big poodle," is murdered. The American Kennel Club describes the breed: "Carrying himself proudly, very active, intelligent, the Poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself." Thus, Mark Haddon's choice for a murdered dog quite symbolic and extremely relative to the novel's exceptional protagonist, Christopher Boone.
While Wellington may not have had a hairstyle, Christopher is wrong that "big" (standard) poodles do not have hairstyles. The poodle was bred as a water dog, retrieving its master's quarry from cold waters. Its distinctive cuts originated from a practical purpose: to streamline the dog for swimming while protecting its vulnerable joints and organs from the cold. The poodle comes in three sizes: The standard is over fifteen inches in height at the shoulder; the miniature is between ten and fifteen inches tall; and the toy is smaller than ten inches. The range of sizes available in a dog that is calm, intelligent, and less apt to shed than a straight-haired dog have made the poodle a very popular pet.
Although many readers shy away from books about people with disabilities, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time inspires the public to take a chance on Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old boy with autism who narrates the novel. As Jackie Gropman from the School Library Journal explained, "his story evokes emotions in readers—heartache and frustration for his well-meaning but clueless parents and deep empathy for the wonderfully honest, funny, and lovable protagonist. Readers will never view the behavior of an autistic person again without more compassion and understanding."
Said Mel Gussow of the New York Times, "Mr. Haddon performed the literary equivalent of a hat trick in hockey, scoring three goals with one book: high critical praise and the admiration of other novelists, from Ian McEwan to Anne Tyler; soaring sales; and wide readership by both adults and children." Gussow also noted, "the book is layered with mystery and deadpan comedy. It also offers a deeply sensitive portrait of one of the most unusual adolescents one is likely to meet in or out of fiction." On the publisher's website, Arthur Golden, author of the best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha is quoted as saying, "I have never read anything quite like Mark Haddon's funny and agonizingly honest book, or encountered a narrator more vivid and memorable."
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time won Britain's 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. The novel won a 2003 Listen Up Award, a 2004 Alex Award, and a 2006 British Book Award.
Currently a literature scholar, Lee has published poetic and dramatic work, as well as both short and long fiction. In this essay, she discusses how both the stream-of-consciousness technique and a time motif serve to connect Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time with Virginia Woolf's classic Mrs. Dalloway, particularly in terms of style, structure, and characterization.
Though Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time follows a mystery written by a teenage boy with autism who lives in the present-day London suburbs and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway follows the day of an upper middle-class woman in post-World War I London, the novels make for interesting comparisons stylistically and structurally.
With Mrs. Dalloway and her earlier novels, Virginia Woolf pioneered the stream-of-consciousness style. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon uses this same style to tell the story and explore the personal voice of Christopher Boone, an autistic teen. Though Christopher's repetitive, meticulous, and rambling language is characteristic of his autism, the patterns and rhythm resemble Woolf's inventive style. Not long after Haddon's novel opens, for example, Christopher writes:
I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer, for example, or a road accident.
Christopher's thoughts spill naturally onto the page, without censorship, much like the thoughts of the fictional Clarissa Dalloway. Like Christopher, Clarissa begins to loosen her tongue early in the novel, reminiscing: "How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did." The description continues for another fourteen lines or so, and although Woolf's language and punctuation differ from Haddon's, the technique is the same.
Both Woolf and Haddon employ a stream-of-consciousness style to enrich and develop their characters. By using this strategy, Woolf and Haddon allow their readers to get their character's full perspective. Nothing is withheld. This approach emphasizes the obsessive-compulsive behavior of Christopher Boone and the characters of Mrs. Dalloway. Christopher takes note of the world to anticipate how it will affect him. Bathrooms, books, and backyards are fully assessed before Christopher proceeds with any activity, decision, or even exploration. He explains this in Chapter 42: 181:
And when I am in a new place, because I see everything, it is like when a computer is doing too many things at the same time and the central processor unit is blocked up and there isn't any space left to think about other things. And when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is even harder because people are not like cows and flowers and grass and they can talk to you and do things that you don't expect, so you have to notice everything that is in the place, and also you have to notice things that might happen as well.
Similarly, while the characters in Mrs. Dalloway sit on a bench or wait for traffic to pass, they notice everything, from omnibuses and the chime of Big Ben to Acts of Parliament, as illustrated by Clarissa's narration:
And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats; Lords, Ascot, Ranelagh and all the rest of it; wrapped in the soft mesh of the grey-blue morning air, which, as the day wore on, would unwind them, and set down on their lawns and pitches the bouncing ponies, whose forefeet just struck the ground and up they sprung, the whirling young men, and laughing girls in their transparent muslins who, even now, after dancing all night, were taking their absurd woolly dogs for a run; and even now, at this hour, discreet old dowagers were shooting out in their motor cars on errands of mystery; and the shopkeepers were fidgeting in their windows with their paste and diamonds, their lovely old sea-green brooches in eighteenth century settings to tempt Americans.
Because stream-of-consciousness narration does not filter the thoughts of a character, this particular style helps reflect the common theme of truth in both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Mrs. Dalloway. By following every twist and turn of Christopher Boone's thoughts, the reader feels nothing important is held back. Christopher is trustworthy, and when he makes remarks like, "I do not tell lies," the reader tends to believe him, particularly when the statement is demonstrated by other uncensored commentary such as,
I think I would make a very good astronaut. To be a good astronaut you have to be intelligent and I'm intelligent. You also have to understand how machines work and I'm good at understanding how machines work. You also have to be someone who would like being on their own in a tiny spacecraft thousands and thousands of miles away from the surface of the earth and not panic or get claustrophobia or homesick or insane.
In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf offers more than one narrator. But even though the stream-of-consciousness narrative is woven from the thoughts of multiple characters, the effect is the same. The mass of feeling and observation rolls forward with abandon, often suggesting a collective truth to the reader, as in this section in which the reader is simultaneously privy to Rezia's and Septimus's points of view. In the previous paragraph, Rezia begins the narrative, but in the section that follows, it is not obvious when Rezia ends and Septimus begins:
But he would not go mad. He would shut his eyes; he would see no more. But they beckoned; leaves were alive; trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with his own body, there on the seat, fanned it up and down; when the branch stretched, he, too, made that statement.
Septimus Smith is growing mad from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his experiences in the war, and the stream-of-consciousness style connects his emotional state with the world around him. Clarissa Dalloway makes a community narrative even more obvious:
Somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift their mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself.
Though Christopher Boone records the mystery of the murder of Wellington the dog in his point of view, he also reaches moments of communal experience, particularly when he finds himself among crowds, as in this upsetting incident in the subway station:
And then the roaring turned into a clattering and a squealing and it slowly got quieter and then it stopped and I kept my eyes closed because I felt safer not seeing what was happening. And then I could hear people moving again because it was quieter. And I opened my eyes but I couldn't see anything at first because there were too many people…. And there was sweat running down my face from under my hair and I was moaning, not groaning but different, like a dog when it has hurt its paw, and I heard the sound but I didn't realize it was me at first.
For Clarissa, her engagement with the world is positive, a "mist spread ever so far." For Christopher, however, he is "safer not seeing" the "mist rambling" around him. He finds it hard to "survive" the "ebb and flow of things" and "moans" and "groans" when other people "spread" into him.
Although the stream-of-consciousness style provides a foundation for both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Mrs. Dalloway, each novel is also structured by time and clocks. In Mrs. Dalloway, the strike of Big Ben urges plot and character forward and begins in Clarissa's point of view:
There! Out it boomed. First, a warning, a musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building round one, tumbling it, creating every moment afresh.
Clarissa sees time controlling everything and everyone. She sees the joy in "every moment afresh," yet considers herself, and others, foolish for doing so. She hears her life moving toward an end with every "leaden circle," every "warning." Clarissa and other characters in Mrs. Dalloway react emotionally to time, as shown by this example when Peter, Clarissa's old flame, leaves her home after a tense visit: "The sound of Big Ben striking the half-hour stuck out between them with extraordinary vigour, as if a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate, were swinging dumb-bells this way and that."
To Clarissa and Peter, time represents the missed opportunities in their past and the awkward feelings in their present. Christopher Boone, on the other hand, views time simply as "the relationship between the way different things change." He explains that "time is a mystery" and that "no one has ever solved the puzzle of what time is exactly." Like Clarissa, he knows he cannot control time; however, he regards time in a logical fashion. He does not like "every moment afresh," though in a way, he does see that time can be a "warning" of sorts. Because of his autistic nature, Christopher prefers marking time with timetables "because [he] like[s] to know when everything is going to happen." If there is no "map of time," time can run wild, and, similar to Clarissa, Christopher fears becoming lost in the spontaneity of it all. Early in the novel, when Christopher is arrested for hitting a policeman after being found at the crime scene, he is asked to leave his watch at the front desk of the police station. Christopher refuses, "need[ing] to keep [his] watch on because [he] needed to know exactly what time it was." Christopher sees time "building round one" and prefers to keep track of every moment. Throughout the novel, as Christopher becomes emotionally distraught, he loses track of time and memories, as shown by the incident when he discovers his father had lied about his mother's death: "I don't know what happened then because there is a gap in my memory, like a bit of the tape had been erased. But I know that a lot of time must have passed because later on, when I opened my eyes again, I could see that it was dark outside the window. And I had been sick because there was sick all over the bed and on my hands and arms and face." After this incident and others, Christopher wakes up confused, his own personal clock upset because he does not know the precise time.
Although Mrs. Dalloway is a literary classic and the poetic lushness of Woolf's metaphorical language starkly contrasts Mark Haddon's spare, straightforward approach to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the novels connect on a stylistic and structural level. The stream-of-consciousness style provides a strong foundation for both stories, as well as keen insight into their casts of characters. But the comparison does not stop there. Further study of number, pattern, and flower motifs, particular note of repetition, and an exploration of metaphor would deepen the relationship between both popular novels and enrich discussion about classic and contemporary masterworks.
Source: Michelle Lee, Critical Essay on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.
In the following essay, Mullan analyzes the literary device of the "inadequate narrator" as a service to readers who want to explore Haddon's novel in greater depth.
There is a special type of first-person narrative that requires the reader to supply what the narrator cannot understand. Much of what "happens" in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not grasped by Christopher, its narrator. The reader comprehends, as Christopher never will, the farcical drama of parental discord that he witnesses. Even when he discovers the truth about his mother, but living in London with a lover, he has no idea of his father's reasons for lying (his cowardice and protectiveness).
Christopher, the book jacket tells you, has Asperger's syndrome, though this is never named in the novel. He has no understanding of others' emotions, though he doggedly records their symptoms. "He looked at me for a long time and sucked air in through his nose," he observes, when his father is, we infer, near despair. Yet requiring the reader to fill in these gaps allows for a tragicomic intuition of characters' feelings that a more adequate narrator could not manage.
The "inadequate narrator" is not an established critical term. Yet the more usual "unreliable narrator" seems inaccurate for a narrator who, however un-comprehending, is entirely trustworthy. We are not invited to be sceptical about what Christopher tells us. As he says several times, "I always tell the truth." Indeed, his very truthfulness is a kind of limitation on his understanding of the world. He cannot negotiate his way through conversations.
Narrative inadequacy is not so unusual in fiction. Think of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, whose narrator is qualified by her inarticulacy. We infer what she suffers through her inability to express it. Then there is the model for the inadequate narrator, the eponymous heroine of Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740). A 15-year-old servant girl, she is too innocent to comprehend the schemes of her predatory master, though we as readers see them all too clearly. These narrators are innocent, like Christopher, but they are also limited by their language. One effect is a satirical indictment of those nominally sophisticated adults whom each narrator describes and tries to understand.
Christopher's peculiar ingenuousness is as much fictional device as medical condition. You do not have to check him against a psychiatric textbook to believe in him as a narrator. The reader is left to piece together the meanings and motives of the characters around him; he never explains or interprets. "When I was little I didn't understand about other people having minds…. But I don't find this difficult now." He has decided to turn life into a detective story, for "if something is a puzzle there is always a way of solving it."
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
A Spot of Bother (2006) is Mark Haddon's second novel for adults and another humorous tale of an unlikely hero trying to navigate the perils of family and social relationships.
Forrest Gump (2002), by Winston Groom, is a story about an "idiot savant" that spans forty years of history and turns a simple man's life into an epic. The novel, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is written in first-person.
In Hurricane Dancing: Glimpses of Life with an Autistic Child (2004), poet D. Alison Watt and photographer Carole Ruth Fields reveal the emotional experiences of raising an autistic child through a striking combination of photographs and poetry.
Virginia Woolf's post-World War I novel Mrs. Dalloway follows Clarissa Dalloway through London on the morning before her grand party. Its stream-of-consciousness style and attention to detail reflect the narrative of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Flowers for Algernon (1959), by Daniel Keyes, is told through the viewpoint of Charlie, a mentally retarded adult who takes part in a science experiment and attains genius-level intellectual abilities only to lose them again.
The inadequate narrator lets us glimpse the inadequacies of all the adults he encounters. The reader senses the torments and forbearance of Christopher's father, uncomprehended by him. Christopher knows things about others only by their conventional signs. When his father shouts, this means anger. When there are tears "coming out of his eyes," he must be sad, though he wrongly and characteristically supposes that the cause must be the death of their neighbour's dog, Wellington.
Christopher is also detached from his own torments. When things become too much, he curls into a ball and hides in a small space, or simply screams. When he reads the letters from his mother that his father has hidden from him, he has no description to offer of his feelings, just an account of a kind of seizure. "I couldn't think of anything at all because my brain wasn't working properly." This is no figure of speech. When the patterns of thought and habits of behaviour on which he depends collapse, there is nothing else.
The irony is that his inadequacy as a guide to human psychology is balanced by a fastidious accuracy in matters of report. "I am really good at remembering things, like the conversations I have written down in this book, and what people were wearing, and what they smelled like." His exactitude shows up the evasions of the other characters. Imagining things is what makes Christopher frightened. "And this is why everything I have written here is true."
Source: John Mullan, "Through Innocent Eyes," in the Guardian (U.K.), April 24, 2004, p. 32.
In the following essay, Mullan discusses the plainness of the narrator's prose in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Many readers will have their experience of Mark Haddon's novel shaped by a technical peculiarity of which they might not be conscious. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time uses a sans serif font: that is, a simple kind of print in which letters lack the little tails and plinths that printers call serifs. This is highly unusual in any published book; the conventional wisdom is that serifs help the brain's visual apparatus as a line of print is scanned. The tiny thickenings and thinnings of the limbs of every letter give the eye something to catch on to. Sans serif fonts may be used in advertisements, headlines and the like, but their simplicity is almost physically uncomfortable in any lengthy text.
The font's discomfiting simplicity is perfectly suited to Haddon's narrator, Christopher, in all his pedantic veracity. He narrates plainly (sometimes just cataloguing or enumerating) and the plainness is even there in the lettering. Reading a page printed like this is, I think, visually disconcerting. Graphically speaking, we are in Christopher's nuance-free world from the start. We are unsettled by its lack of variation, just as we will become conscious of his flat-voiced failure to sense the emotions and tones of the novel's other characters.
Christopher himself hardly has a tone except plainness. One of several reasons why this is intriguing in a novel (as it would not be in life) is that it comes close to parodying what the novel as a genre originally set out to achieve. In his hugely influential The Rise of the Novel, the critic Ian Watt described one of the distinctive features of the novel form, in its first 18th-century experiments, as "a prose which restricts itself almost entirely to a descriptive and denotative use of language." Its "realism" committed the novelist to a plain style, avoiding ornamentation and figurative extravagance.
The pioneers of whom Watt writes, Defoe and Richardson, were both mocked for their failures of elegance. Yet plainness in prose is as artificial and as difficult to achieve as figurative-ness. Haddon must have made great efforts to keep figures of speech out of his narrative. He has created a narrator for whom they are bewildering. Christopher complains about how people insist on using metaphors. "They had a skeleton in the cupboard"; "We had a real pig of a day." "I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards." When Christopher tries to picture such phrases "it just confuses me." He is disturbed when Mrs Shears, a neighbour who—we infer—is having a somewhat desperate affair with his father, says things like "I'm going to hit the hay" or "It's brass monkeys out there." "And I didn't like it when she said things like that because I didn't know what she meant."
For Christopher, all language's indirectness (metaphor, irony, understatement) is mysterious. His narrative is prose reduced to its most literal patterns, accuracy its only standard. It allows for some similes, but only, as Christopher himself tells us, to show us some literal resemblance. When he says that a policeman with a very hairy nose "looked as if there were two very small mice hiding in his nostrils," it is because "it really did look like there were two very small mice hiding in his nostrils." A simile is not a lie, "unless it is a bad simile."
He reports things. He collects observations and strings together statements. Never can there have been a novel in which so many sentences, indeed so many paragraphs, begin with the word "And." Doggedly, he pursues a founding ambition of the novel: to be true to the world of circumstantial facts. "I see everything." Travelling on his own to London for the first time, he must describe exactly the condition of the lavatory on the train. His descriptions are collections of "things I noticed," unsorted by significance or priority. Sometimes he provides diagrams, as if these fulfilled the purposes of narrative in a more satisfactory way. He tells us things because they are true, and we begin to realise what a strange standard the plain truth truly is.
Source: John Mullan, "Letters Patent," in the Guardian (U.K.), May 8, 2004, p. 32.
In the following essay, Mullan examines the humor in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time as relayed by a narrator who does not perceive it.
I am told that a teenager with Asperger's syndrome might very well have a sense of humour, even if it might seem odd to most of us. But clinical accuracy takes second place to narrative intent in Mark Haddon's novel, whose autistic narrator, Christopher, is taken to have no such sense. "This will not be a funny book," he tells us. The statement is not made ironically: Christopher means exactly what he says. Yet there is irony here, for this is a very funny book.
It is presumed that Christopher cannot understand humour because it consists in the disparity between pretension and reality. Christopher either does not see such a gap, or registers it with bafflement. "I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them." So jokes become funny by not being seen as jokes. Christopher is surrounded by grimly jovial adults, whose jests he uncomprehendingly records (and inadvertently satirises). Here he calls on a neighbour.
Mr Thompson answered the door. He was wearing a T-shirt which said
Helping ugly people
Have sex for
Mr Thompson said, "Can I help you?"
Mr Thompson, whose conversation is undistinguished by humour, bears his printed fragment of wit as a kind of blazon. Christopher cannot understand, but duly transcribes the message. In his blank recording, the declaration of the T-shirt wearer's drollness really does become funny, and just as nonsensical as it must seem to Christopher.
But then many a joke is unfunny. Arriving in London, Christopher asks a shopkeeper the directions to his mother's flat, and is told to buy an A-Z.
And I said, "Is that the A to Z?" and I pointed at the book.
And he said, "No, it's a sodding crocodile."
And I said, "Is that the A to Z?" because it wasn't a crocodile and I thought I had heard wrongly because of his accent.
And he said, "Yes, it's the A to Z."
The retailer's sarcasm is no match for his customer's pertinacity.
There is a special humour to be gained from all exchanges with life's functionaries. Pedantically rational, Christopher sends ordinary exchanges off into strange directions. When he tries to buy a train ticket from Swindon to London, the man behind the window asks him if he wants single or return, and then has to explain these mysterious terms.
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."
The ticket-salesman's wit is perfume on the desert air.
Haddon's is an unusual variation on a known technique. Think of Charles Pooter, the unconsciously absurd narrator of George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody. To hilarious effect, his authors gifted him with an utter earnestness in his genteel pretensions. In The Curious Incident, the narrator's humourlessness is the sine qua non of the humour. We all know the peculiar effect of deadpan humour, where our laughter is caused by the refusal of another person to acknowledge that what is said is funny. This is deadpan without the intent.
Christopher has found a neighbour's dog dead on the lawn, impaled on a garden fork. "I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this." From any other narrator, the long sentence here would be self-consciously, irritatingly fantastic. From Christopher, it is an earnest approximation to logic. It is funny because many of the world's incidents are mysterious, and he is just trying to cover the possible angles. You never know. And we will indeed find that the normal adults in the story are capable of the funniest (peculiar and ha-ha) actions.
Source: John Mullan, "Funny Old World," in Guardian (U.K.), May 15, 2004, p. 32.
"Asperger Syndrome Information Page," in National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/asperger.htm (July 17, 2006).
Gropman, Jackie, Review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, in School Library Journal, Vol. 49, No. 10, October 2003, pp. 207-208.
Gussow, Mel, "Novel's Sleuth Views Life From Unusual Perspective," in the New York Times, August 3, 2004, p. E1.
Haddon, Mark, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Vintage Contemporaries, 2004.
"Mark Haddon: Author Biography," www.randomhou-se.com/vintage/catalog/results_author.pperl?au-thorid=11481 (July 18, 2006).
Kirby, Barbara L., "What Is Asperger Syndrome?" in Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support, www.aspergersyndrome.org (August 10, 2006).
Oakes, Keily, "The Curious Tale of Author Haddon," in BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3375965.stm (January 7, 2004).
Review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, in Publishers Weekly, April 07, 2003, p. 42.
Review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Audiobook) in Library Journal, January 15, 2004, p. 184.
Weich, Dave, "The Curiously Irresistible Literary Debut of Mark Haddon, "in Powells.com, March 28, 2006, p. 8.
Woolf, Virginia, Mrs. Dalloway Harcourt, 1925, pp. 3-5, 9, and 22.
Barrow, Judy and Sean Barrow, There's a Boy in Here, Future Horizons, 2002.
A rare autobiographical account written by a boy with autism, this book provides insight into life with the disability.
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Berkley, 1987 reissue.
This Sherlock Holmes mystery deals with a local supernatural legend about a seventeenth-century aristocrat and the violent family dog.