The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Front cover of first edition
(quote from Ian McEwan)
|Publisher||Jonathan Cape (UK)
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon. Its title quotes the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 short story "Silver Blaze". Haddon and The Curious Incident won the Whitbread Book Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. As a writer for The Guardian remarked, "Unusually, it was published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children."
The novel is narrated in the first-person perspective by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties" living in Swindon, Wiltshire. Although Christopher's condition is not stated, the book's blurb refers to Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism, or savant syndrome. In July 2009, Haddon wrote on his blog that "Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's....if anything it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. The book is not specifically about any specific disorder," and that he, Haddon, is not an expert on autism spectrum disorder or Asperger syndrome.
The book is notable for using prime numbers to number the chapters, rather than the conventional successive cardinal numbers.
- Christopher John Francis Boone
- The 15-year-old protagonist and narrator of the novel, who investigates the murder of Mrs. Shears' large black poodle.
- Ed Boone
- Christopher's father, a boiler engineer. Prior to the beginning of the story, he has been living with Christopher as a single parent for two years.
- Judy Boone
- Christopher's mother. Early in the book, Christopher writes that she died of a heart attack two years before the book's events.
- Christopher's para-professional and mentor at school. She teaches him how society works and how to behave within its complex guidelines.
- Mr Roger Shears
- One of the neighbours who lived near the Boones, but who has left his wife before the story begins.
- Mrs Eileen Shears
- Mr Shears's wife, who attempts to console Ed for a time after Christopher learns of his mother's death.
- Mrs Alexander
- An old lady, who is one of Christopher's neighbours, who offers information to help Christopher's investigation regarding his parents and Mr and Mrs Shears.
- Ed Boone's employee.
- Christopher's pet rat.
- Mrs. Shears' large black poodle, which Christopher finds dead in her garden, with a garden fork sticking out of him.
Christopher, a fifteen-year-old boy with an autistic spectrum condition, lives with his father; he explains that his mother, Judy, died two years ago. He discovers the dead body of Wellington, the neighbour's dog, speared by a garden fork. Mrs Shears, Wellington's owner, calls the police, and Christopher comes under suspicion. When a policeman touches him, he hits the policeman, and is arrested, then released with a police caution. He decides to investigate the dog's death, despite his father's orders to stay out of other people's business. However, he is severely limited by his fears and difficulties when interpreting the world around him. Throughout his adventures, Christopher records his experiences in a book: a "murder mystery novel". During his investigation, Christopher meets people whom he has never before encountered, even though they live on the same street, including the elderly Mrs Alexander, who informs Christopher that his mother had an affair with Mr Shears and had been with him for a long time.
Ed, his father, discovers the book and confiscates it from Christopher, after a brief fight between them. While searching for the confiscated book, Christopher uncovers a trove of letters which his mother wrote to him, dated after her supposed death, which his father has also hidden. He is so shocked by his father lying about his mother's death that he is unable to move, curls up on the bed, vomits and groans for several hours until his father returns home. Ed realizes that Christopher has read the letters and cleans him up. He then confesses that he had indeed lied about Judy's death and also that it was he who killed Wellington, stating that it was a mistake resulting from his anger after a heated argument with Mrs Shears. Christopher, having lost all trust in his father and fearing that Ed might try to kill him since he had already killed the dog, runs away. Guided by his mother's address from the letters, he embarks on an adventurous trip to London, where his mother lives with Mr Shears.
After a long and event-filled journey, evading policemen, and feeling ill from the overwhelmingly large amount of information and stimuli from the trains and crowds around him, he finally finds his way to his mother and Mr Shears' home, and waits outside until they arrive. Judy is delighted that Christopher has come to her; she is upset that Ed told Christopher that she was dead. Mr Shears does not want Christopher living with them and never did. Moreover, very soon after arriving, Christopher wants to return to Swindon in order to take his mathematics A-level. His mother leaves Mr Shears, their relationship having broken down because of the conflict and his rejection of Christopher. Judy then moves into a rented room in Swindon, and after an argument with Ed, agrees to let Ed meet Christopher for daily brief visits. However, Christopher remains terrified of his father and makes repeated attempts to prevent him from talking. He hopes Ed will be imprisoned for killing Wellington, although his mother explains that for this to happen, Mrs. Shears would have to press charges.
The story ends with Ed getting Christopher a Golden Retriever puppy, whom Christopher has the power of naming, and promising that he will rebuild trust with Christopher slowly, "no matter how long it takes". Christopher asserts that he will take further A-level exams and attend university. He completes his first mathematics A-level with top grades and, despite previously wanting to be an astronaut, his ultimate goal is to become a scientist. The book ends with Christopher optimistic about his future, having solved the mystery of the murdered dog, gone to London on his own, found his mother, written a book about his adventures, and achieved an A* in his A-level maths exam. Christopher goes on to live with his mother, and occasionally visits his father's house.
In a June, 2003 interview with NPR's Terry Gross on her program Fresh Air, Haddon said about Christopher, "If he were diagnosed, he would be diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of autism. I suppose you'd call it high-function autism in that he can function on, you know, a day-to-day basis, in a kind of rudimentary way. But he has a serious difficulty with life in that he really doesn't empathize with other human beings. He can't read their faces. He can't put himself in their shoes. And he can't understand anything more than the literal meaning of whatever's said to him, although I'm very careful in the book not to actually use the word 'Asperger's' or 'autism.' ... Because I don't want him to be labeled, and because, as with most people who have a disability, I don't think it's necessarily the most important thing about him... And as a good friend of mine said after reading the book, a friend who is himself a mathematician, it's not a novel about a boy who has Asperger's syndrome; it's a novel about a young mathematician who has some strange behavioral problems. And I think that's right."
Haddon added, in the conversation with Terry Gross, "I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger's syndrome. I gave him kind of nine or 10 rules that he would live his life by, and then I didn't read any more about Asperger's because I think there is no typical person who has Asperger's syndrome, and they're as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society. And the important thing is that I did a lot of imagining, that I did a lot of putting myself into his shoes in trying to make him come alive as a human being rather than getting him right, whatever that might mean."
Haddon states on his official website that, although he had read "a handful of newspaper and magazine articles about, or by, people with asperger’s and autism" in preparation for writing the book, he knows "very little" about Asperger's syndrome and that Christopher Boone is inspired by two different people. According to Haddon, none of these people can be labelled as having a disability. Haddon added that he "slightly regret[s]" that the term Asperger's syndrome appeared on the cover of his novel. In 2010, in an interview with The Independent, however, he was described as "now thoroughly irritated that the word Asperger's appeared on subsequent editions of the novel, because now everyone imagines that he is an expert and he keeps getting phone calls asking him to appear at lectures."
In a critical essay on the novel, Vivienne Muller quotes some praise by experts on disability theory: "In its presentation of Christopher's everyday experiences of the society in which he lives, the narrative offers a rich canvas of experiences for an ethnographic study of this particular cognitive condition, and one which places a positive spin on the syndrome. The reader in this instance acts as ethnographer, invited to see what Mark Osteen claims is a 'quality in autistic lives that is valuable in and of itself' (cited in [S.] Adams 2005, p.1). Along similar lines, [Alex] McClimens writes that Haddon's novel is 'an ethnographic delight' and that 'Haddon's achievement is to have written a novel that turns on the central character's difference without making that difference a stigmatising characteristic' (2005, p.24)." Muller adds that the novel "works with a strong sense of the disabled speaking subject, drawing readers into Christopher's cognitive/corporeal space through an incremental layering of his perspectives and reactions... The narrative also bristles with diagrams, maps, drawings, stories, texts that inform Christopher's lexicon for mapping meaning in a world of bewildering signs and sounds." She also admires such elements as "the digressive stream-of-connectedness-and-disconnectedness way in which Christopher writes and thinks; the obsessive focus on minutiae; his musings about why animals behave the way they do; his quasi philosophizing on death and life and the afterlife; his ambition to be an astronaut..."
In a survey of children's books which "teach about emotional life," Laura Jana wrote, "On the one hand, this is a story of how an undeniably quirky teenage boy clings to order, deals with a family crisis, and tries to make sense of the world as he sees it. But it also provides profound insight into a disorder—autism—that leaves those who have it struggling to perceive even the most basic of human emotions. In so doing, The Curious Incident leaves its readers with a greater appreciation of their own ability to feel, express, and interpret emotions. This mainstream literary success made its way to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for fiction at the same time it was being touted by experts in Asperger's syndrome and autism-spectrum disorder as an unrivaled fictional depiction of the inner workings of an autistic teenage boy."
Christopher often comments on his inability to appreciate some metaphors and similes. He gives as an example a quote that he found in "a proper novel": "I am veined with iron, with silver and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist which those clench who do not depend on stimulus." Haddon told Terry Gross, "Funnily enough, it's actually a quote from Virginia Woolf. It's Virginia Woolf on an off day, in the middle, I think, of The Waves. An author whom I love actually, but who sometimes got a little too carried away."
The book was joint winner of the 2004 Boeke Prize, won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year award and sold more than two million copies. Haddon also was one of the winners of the 2004 Alex Awards, which "honor the 10 top adult books with appeal for adolescents."
As well as winning the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Haddon earned the Book Trust teenage fiction award. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was also long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and "many observers were surprised that it did not advance to the shortlist." John Carey, chairman of the Booker panel of judges, told The Guardian, "We have several clashes of opinion among the judges but I found Haddon's book about a boy with Asperger's syndrome breathtaking."
A survey in Great Britain, conducted by the BBC's literacy campaign for World Book Day, found Curious Incident to be among "the top five happy endings, as voted on by readers" in novels (the others were Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre and Rebecca, the last of which Curious outranked).
School Library Journal praised it as a "rich and poignant novel." The San Jose Mercury News said, "Haddon does something audacious here, and he does it superbly. He shows us the way consciousness orders the world, even when the world doesn't want to be ordered," adding that "the great achievement of this novel is that it transcends its obvious cleverness. It's more than an exercise in narrative ingenuity. Filled with humor and pain, it verges on profundity in its examination of those things—customs, habits, language, symbols, daily routines, etc.—that simultaneously unite and separate human beings." A reviewer for The Christian Century described it as "an absorbing, plausible book": "The reader becomes absorbed not only in the mystery of a murdered dog and a missing mom, but also in the mysterious world of an autistic child."
A reviewer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that the story is "a touching evolution, one that Haddon scripts with tenderness and care... a unique window into the mind of a boy who thinks a little differently, but like many kids his age, doesn't quite know how to feel." Professor Roger Soder called it "visceral" and a "delightful story," declaring, "All of us in our Spokane Book Club are special education professionals and so have considerable experience with kids with this disability, and we found the story believable."
Medical professionals' reviews
Dr. Alex McClimens, whom Muller quoted above, also wrote, "This magnificent essay in communication is compulsory reading for anyone with the slightest interest in autistic spectrum disorders. This book is also required reading for those who simply enjoy a fascinating story... we are offered a first person narrative to match anything by contemporary writers. Mark Haddon has created a true literary character and his handling of the teenage Asperger's heroic adventure is brilliantly crafted. He uses the literal mind-set of his hero to mask the true direction of the plot." Reviewer Paul Moorehead calls the book "a fairly ripping adventure story" and writes, "It's also quite a feat of writing. The actual use of language is somewhat austere—an unavoidable consequence of having a boy with autism as a narrator—but it has its own beauty, and it works. So persuasive and so effective is the construction of Christopher, not only is he a character you're rooting for, he's also the character in the story you understand the best. It's startling how believably and comfortably this story puts you into what you might have thought were likely to be some pretty alien shoes."
Reviewer David Ellis, naming Curious Incident an "ambitious and innovative novel," wrote that Haddon "manages to avoid the opposing pitfalls of either offending people with autism and their families or turning Christopher into an object of pity. Instead of becoming the focus of the plot, the autism enhances it. The unemotional descriptions amplify many moments of observational comedy, and misfortunes are made extremely poignantly." He concludes that Christopher's story is "far more enjoyable and likely to stay with you for far longer than any medical textbook."
Texas community reactions
The novel was selected as a recommended book for the 2006 Galveston Reads program, a literacy encouragement program in Galveston County, Texas. Friendswood, Texas Mayor Kimball Brizendine issued a proclamation declaring January 31 "Galveston County Reads Day" and encouraging "all citizens, teens to seniors" to read the novel. Five days later, he retracted the statement, declaring that it was "not [his] intention to endorse this readership [sic] for our younger readers." The journal American Libraries reported, "City Council member Chris Peden went a step further, asserting to the January 28 Galveston County Daily News that while he hadn't read Curious Incident in its entirety, he had noted that the 'F word' appeared on page four and that 'later in the book, the [lead character] says there is no God and there is no life after death. Clearly, these are not ideas we should promote to kids'."
In August, 2007, some parents in Bryan, Texas, "were appalled to see what their kids were reading" and protested the inclusion of the book in high school libraries, with one parent claiming that Curious Incident and another book (Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson) were "unsuitable for not just some but all high school students."
A stage adaptation, by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, premièred at the National Theatre on 2 August 2012. It starred Luke Treadaway as Christopher, Nicola Walker as his mother Judy, Paul Ritter as his father Ed, Una Stubbs as Mrs. Alexander and Niamh Cusack as Siobhan. The production, which ran until late October 2012, was broadcast live to cinemas worldwide on Thursday 6 September 2012 through the National Theatre Live programme.
The show transferred to the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, from March 2013. On 19 December 2013, during a performance of The Curious Incident at the Apollo, parts of the ceiling fell down injuring around 80 of the over 700 patrons inside.
An adaptation and translation into Spanish by María Renée Prudencio played at the Teatro de los Insurgentes in Mexico City in June 2014. The character of Christopher was played by Luis Gerardo Méndez and by Alfonso Dosal on alternate days.
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