16. The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003) 272 p.
This is another excellent book. Narrated from the perspective of 15-year old Christopher Boone, it follows his attempts to uncover the mystery of who murdered his next-door neighbour’s dog.
Christopher, however, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that gives him a photographic memory and an incredible grasp of mathematics and science, but leaves him unable to understand human beings: their emotions, society, relationships and expressions. He lives with his father and attends a school for mentally disabled children, living a life which most people would find tediously restricting, but which Christopher is perfectly happy with. The murder of his neighbour’s dog, however, sparks off a chain of events that reveal the sad, dark secrets of his family, which he finds quite difficult to deal with.
Naturally the language is very simple, but Christopher’s thought patterns are intriguing enough to keep the book gripping; I read the first two thirds in a single sitting after midnight. While Christopher’s way of speaking may be quite bland, the things he speaks about are anything but:
For a long time, scientists were puzzled about how the sky is dark at night, even though there are billions of stars in the universe and there must be stars in every direction you look, so the sky should be full of starlight because there is very little in the way to stop the light reaching earth.
Then they worked out that the universe was expanding, that the stars were all rushing away from one another after the Big Bang, and the further the stars were away from us the faster they were moving, some of them nearly as fast as the speed of light, which was why their light never reached us…
And when the universe has finished exploding all the stars will slow down, like a ball that has been thrown into the air, and they will come to a halt and they will all begin to fall towards the centre of the universe again. And then there will be nothing to stop us seeing all the stars in the world because they will all be moving towards us, gradually faster and faster, and we will know that the world is going to end soon because when we look up into the sky at night there will be no darkness, just the blazing light of billions and billions of stars, all falling.
Except that no one will see this because there will be no people left on earth to see it. They will probably have become extinct by then. And even if there are people still in existence they will not see it because the light will be so bright and hot that everyone will be burnt to death, even if they live in tunnels.
Christopher has a matter-of-fact approach to everything, and learning how his mind works, while usually fascinating, is also sad. Towards the end of the book he details his favourite recurring dream, in which everyone in the world except himself has died, and he can be alone and do whatever he wants. Nothing would make him happier.
Some of the most emotional scenes in the book revolve around Christopher’s loved ones. His father, Ed Boone, is the most well developed character in the story after Christopher himself. His life has had immense strain placed on it because of Christopher’s autism, and while he is usually doting and caring, making immense sacrifices, some of his actions could be considered horrific or downright evil. Nonetheless, I found myself respecting him as a truly honourable man – somebody who has been pushed to breaking point and reacted with excruciating grief and anger, in direct contrast to his son’s complete neutrality and logical outlook on everything. I doubt any reader could say they wouldn’t react in a similar, if not worse way.
I know very little about autism, and while I’m not naive enough to assume that reading this book would make anyone an expert (indeed, some real experts are quite critical of the manner in which it is portrayed), it serves as an entertaining reminder that even people who don’t quite fit into our society are still human, in their own way.
The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time at The Book Depository