Note: This review, as always, is spoiler-free.
I devoured Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in less than one day and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it is NOT a children’s book. The story follows a fifteen-year-old British boy named Christopher who sees the world in a strictly logical way as he investigates the death of a neighborhood dog. It is one part murder mystery, one part science/math nerd musings. Here is what I thought about the book.
Straight-forward tone – I loved Mark Haddon’s tone throughout the book. It is fact-oriented and simple, yet highly detailed—exactly how the story’s first person narrator, Christopher, sees the world. Partly as a result of this approach, Haddon is able to make blunt statements about society and irrational human behavior in a humorous, piercingly intelligent way.
Empathy – My favorite surprise reading the book was that I found much in common with the narrator. While it is never stated outright in the book, it is clear that the narrator sits somewhere on the spectrum of autism or Asperger’s syndrome. I found myself thinking, “Yep. I follow rules, just like Christopher, that don’t necessarily make sense to everyone else. And I have my own way of coping with them too.” The story does a great job of showing both the advantages and disadvantages of Christopher’s way of thinking, which helped me to think about the advantages and disadvantages of my own way of thinking.
Tough topics – The story approaches some difficult topics like disability, abuse, depression, and infidelity. I felt that Haddon did a good job presenting the topics in an objective way, allowing the readers to make judgments for themselves. The world Haddon presents is a messy one, with problems that don’t necessarily gravitate toward order or classification. This is one of the novel’s strengths, and also a reason that I say it is NOT a children’s book.
Math and Science Bonanza – As an engineering student, I loved the discussions on math and science. If you like learning about the shape of the galaxy, stars, the Monty Hall Paradox, or prime numbers, you will enjoy much of the book. The appendix for the book is a mathematical proof by counterexample. I loved it. But again, not for everyone.
Overall, I give the book five out of five stars, which is rare for me. It is going on my list of favorite books. There are some things readers should be aware of, however. There is a considerable amount of foul language (four letter word type language) in the dialogue of the book. That said, there is very little dialogue in the book because the protagonist is not fond of speaking to others. I recommend the book for mature high school aged readers on up. This is a perfect book to read for a high school English class: not too long, literary, heavy on themes and allusions, and full of good things to write about.
The book is also available in an edition for children. I have not read it, but I am sure it is good as well. The book was made into a play and will likely become a movie at some point.
Have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? What did you think?