Thursday, 18 June 2009

Review:- Mark HADDON - "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"

Publ: 2004
ISBN: 0 099 45025 9
Genre: General Fiction; psychology
Pages: 272
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** *****

What led you to pick up this book?
The title; the cover; the fact that it won the Whitbread Book of the Year; and the reviews. As the publishers claim it is "one of those very rare books that change the way you see everything."

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The narrator, fifteen year old Christopher, suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and when he finds a neighbour's dog dead with a garden fork sticking in it he sets off to investigate. His detective work leads him, to discover all sorts of things about his family and his neighbours and to undertake the greatest adventure of his lifetime. In the process his mathematically inclined brain sets us puzzles and new ways of thinking about things.

What did you think of the characters?
This is a book without villains. Even those who act in an unsympathetic manner are shown to simply be human and have the traits and fallibilities that make us what we are.

What did you think about the style?
The book is written as though it were done by Christopher and is the best insight into Asperger's that one could ever hope to find. Strangely, because the style is childlike in places it actually becomes difficult to read. A book without emotion is an amazing thing. It lacks the flow of normal prose, much as the Asperger's sufferer lacks the normal thought processes. This means it is not a book you can rush but the extra few minutes are well worth it.

What did you like most about the book?

I enjoy anything that helps me to see the world through the eyes of someone with a different outlook and this certainly does that. "Mark Haddon's portrayal of an emotionally dissociated mind is a superb achievement. He is a wise and bleakly funny writer with rare gifts of empathy." Ian McEwan

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Appropriate and part of the reason for making one pick the book up in the first place.

Would I recommend it?
Yes. Anyone who wants to know about Asperger's or who has contact with people with special needs of this sort must read it.

Totally irrelevant side note:
If we could analyse our thought processes the way Christopher does it would be a fascinating exercise.

What actually happens when you die is that your brain stops working and your body rots, like Rabbit did when he died and we buried him in the earth at the bottom of the garden. And all his molecules were broken down into other molecules and they went into the earth and were eaten by worms and went into the plants and if we go and dig in the same place in 10 years there will be nothing except his skeleton left. And in 1000 years even his skeleton will be gone. But that is all right because he is a part of the flowers and the apple tree and the hawthorn bush now.

All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I'm not meant to call them stupid, even though that is what they are. I'm meant to say that they have learning difficulties or that they have special needs. But this is stupid because everyone has learning difficulties b4ecause learning to speak French or understanding Relativity is difficult, and also everyone has special needs, like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs Peters who wears a beige-coloured hearing aid and Siobhan who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.

Eventually scientists will discover something that explains ghosts. just like they discovered electricity which explained lightning andf it might be something about people's brains, or something about the erath's magnetic field, or it might be some new force altogether. And then ghosts won't be mysteries. They will be like electricity and rainbows and non-stick frying pans.

MARK HADDON (born 1962) is an author, illustrator and screenwriter who has written fifteen books for children and won two BAFTAs. He lives in Oxford.


  1. I've never read a book that compelled me to google the author to see if I was the only person who was so deeply affected by the narrator's perspective on Asperger's. I don't even recall the term being mentioned in the book, except in the 'about the author' blurb regarding Haddon's work with autistic children. "Rambles From My Chair" was the first page that came up on google, so here I am, posting a comment - which I've also never done - for any blog...ever. Typing furiously, despite the agonizing pain I'm experiencing, from a pinched nerve in my neck, which hunching over a keyboard is not helping. I spent the past 2 days reading this book, propped up with pillows, ice packs, Percocet, Valium and a heating pad (not necessarily in that order). I don't generally need 2 days to read a 200 page book, but I found the writing so amazingly on-target, I had to re-read most of it several times. Ok, and I kept dozing off from the pain-killers...

    My family has spent the last year grappling with the death of my mother, with whom I shared 'aspy aspy's' (Aspects of Asperger's...unnoticed until after her passing). What has carried my family through her tragic passing, is the notion that she is still with us, sending signs, as evidenced by impossible coincidences, events which my family has begun to compile because the events defy scientific explanation....and my family is not at all the type to look for supernatural connections.

    I picked up this book many months ago at a garage sale, intending to sell it on eBay, and this week I was simply looking for a book to send to a bedridden friend...I could not put "Curious Incident" down. I rarely am compelled to read books about Asperger's, since the authors tend to belabor their many symptoms, debate or justify the syndrome as real, or try to classify it as a spectrum disorder of Autism vs. learning difficulties, and then catalogue the impact the syndrome has had on their formative years.

    This book changed that. Yes, I related to the behavior tics, social miscues, (but I love yellow), however I was stunned not only by the unexpected 'Aspy' content, the 'balls-on-dead-accurate' voice of Christopher, then made to LOL by his unintended humor, and lastly, so very saddened by the 'in-your-face' description of the fate of our decomposing bodies (quoted above in this blog as a "breakdown of molecules into a Hawthorn bush"). This novel was yet another random coincidence for me...finding a book that deals with both Asperger's, and with the mysteries of the "afterlife" in such a succinct, scientific, and strangely humorous way. The book makes me a little proud to be part of a club which often causes misunderstanding and pain for so many sufferers. So here I sit, so very sad that maybe my mother is not in fact hearing my cries for guidance, or forgiveness, and yet relieved that neither she nor my grandparents and other dead relatives might be watching the intimate details of my life. Well, there's only one way to find out...stay tuned??!! -E from Florida

  2. Thank you so much, E, for making me a recipient of your insightful comments.
    I thought it was so astounding a book that I promptly gave it to a friend and said "You must read this it's fanastic". To my astonishment she said "I think I've read it". She checked the back cover and said she had. How could anyone 'think' they had read it, I wondered. It had such an impact on me that there is no way I could have forgotten it in four or five years which is all it had been out.
    So I was delghted that someone else had found it as riveting and deeply significant.
    As for Christopher's view on what happens to us after death - as you say, who knows. Presumably we will (or will not?) find out the answer when we ourselves die. For the moment no one can prove one way or the other what happens and there are certainly enough 'sogn's out there to make one wonder.
    I hope the pinched nerve sorts itself out soon and hope also that having commented on a blog once you'll now find the fun I have found in being part of th blogging community.
    All the very best to you,


Hello folks - your comments are always welcome.