Our narrator, fifteen-year-old Christopher, lives in Swindon and sets out to write a detective novel in which he finds the killer of his neighbour’s dog which he finds one night with a garden fork pitched through it. When the police arrive they begin to ask him questions. But because his mind works in a rigid way he has trouble answering their questions and when they touch him he assaults one of the officers and is quickly arrested.
We know straight away that Christopher is different from the way in which he tells his story. He suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome which means he lives his life in a very structured way. He cannot tell a lie; he likes red but hates brown and yellow; he loves numbers and science; and he only eats food when it is not touching any other food on his plate. He goes to a special school but wants to take his A-Level Maths exam, the first in his school to do so. He also wants to be an astronaut. And Christopher decides to number his chapters not in the usual sequence of 1, 2, 3 and so on, but using prime numbers.
Haddon convincingly gets us into the mind of this very special narrator. The prose is child-like but rigorous and methodical. Take, for instance:
“.. the psychologist at school once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 4 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, ad why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day I don’t speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don’t eat my lunch and Take No Risks.”
The book also uses a plethora of pictures and puzzles that Christopher uses to explain things or explain how he understands the world. Haddon creates some difficulties for himself in creating this character, but uses the straight-jacket to his advantage.
Of course ‘detecting’ who killed his neighbour’s dog gets him into situations that he would normally avoid. He needs to talk to people he doesn’t know, something he feels uncomfortable with. And he’s also living in the aftermath of his mother’s death – although we suspect there is something wrong with this death as when his mother went to hospital with heart problems his father wouldn’t take him to see her.
What Christopher wants is to find out who killed the dog, Wellington. But what Christopher needs is something else – an understanding of what happened to his mother and how he can fit into the world. The murder mystery kicks Christopher off into this journey of discovery and we want him to win. He speaks to neighbours he hasn’t spoken to and goes places he doesn’t know. His father is against all this – he doesn’t want Christopher to get into more trouble with the police and so dissuades his son from his mad scheme. He confiscates the book he’s writing and warns him off his search. It is when Christopher searches through his father’s room – something he has told him never to do – and finds his book that he finds other things that create more questions in his mind about what really happened to his mother.
There are some cringing moments as this fish out of water stumbles into situations which for him are quite terrifying. There are also many humorous things. His drawing of the Orion constellation is a prime(!) example, where he turns the archer into a dinosaur
A worthy winner of the Whitbread (now known as the Costa Book Award) in 2003, the same year that a certain DBC Pierre won the Whitbread Best First Book Award for Vernon God Little.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
David Fickling Books
Source: The Bookshelf Rainbow (aka: personal library).