Rarely do I find a more perfect voice than that of the narrator in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone could be described as a high-functioning autistic individual or perhaps one with Asperger’s syndrome, or perhaps a savant, though his condition is never stated in the book. He can’t bear to be touched. He is uncomfortable with eye contact and with people in general. He detests certain colors and can’t eat if his foods have touched each other. He’s superbly talented at “maths.”
Christopher decides to become a detective one night when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, stuck through with a pitchfork. Mrs. Shears, Wellington’s owner, accuses Christopher of the murder. Christopher knows he didn’t do it and is determined to find out who did.
His father—his beleaguered, single father—forbids him to investigate. Christopher can’t lie, he can only say what’s logical and true, so he doesn’t tell his father he’s “detecting.” He simply leaves that information out of their conversations.
Christopher tells us about his investigation in the same way he tells us what he ate for lunch or what his teacher told him at school or how he saw three red cars in a row. Before I began reading I wondered if I’d be willing to read an entire novel in the first person voice of an autistic boy, but Christopher’s telling is brilliant in all the meanings of the word: clear, luminous and intelligent.
Christopher’s father is dedicated to his son, and he’s a good parent for the most part. But he’s frustrated. Haddon allows us to see how hard it is for him to keep his temper with this boy he loves so dearly, who can’t understand or connect with human emotions. The two have worked out a gesture for when father wants to “hug son but can’t, because son can’t stand to be touched.” They fan out their fingers and touch thumbs. This is all Christopher can take. It’s so much less than his father would like to do. And his father has other complicated relationships as well.
Christopher fantasizes about being alone. He’d like to live in a space capsule, or in a submersible on the sea floor. The opposite of a claustrophobe, he sometimes hides himself in small places for long periods of time, to get a break from the world and its trouble. If he’s particularly stressed, he does complicated math problems in his head to relax.
Throughout the book, Christopher gives us equations and logic puzzles, and maps and signs to illustrate what he’s thinking. Some may seem random but they all relate to the story he’s telling.
As Christopher closes in on solving the mystery, he is launched on a journey that takes him far beyond any safe zone he’s ever known. He finds his answers, making us love him in the process.
This is a protagonist who changes little if at all, but thanks to Haddon’s clear, thoughtful writing, it works. The conclusion comes quickly. I wish it had taken longer because I wanted to spend more time with this remarkable boy.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeeshop. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.