Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Aruna Bewtra
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was first published separately as a novel for adults and as a story for kids. It is an award-winning novel, unique in that it is engaging and enjoyable to both teens and their parents. The novel is set in England, and narrated by a 15-year-old boy named Christopher, who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.” Though it is never stated, it soon becomes clear that Christopher has either Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism, and the book takes on his own personal quirks—the narration has an entirely unique voice and the chapters are denoted with prime numbers.
The story begins when Christopher, who is living at home with his father two years after his mother’s death, decides to investigate a local dog’s death. His behavior soon causes problems with his investigation, however, and his father tells him to stop and takes away his detective notebook. Later, as Christopher searches his father’s room to retrieve his notebook, he stumbles across letters written by his mother. Her missives reveal that she did not die, as his father told him; instead, unable to handle Christopher’s behavioral issues, she left. Christopher becomes very angry with his father after this discovery and is unable to interact with him, forcing his mother to return in order to help care for him. In doing so, she faces the consequences of her decision to leave.
There are many, many admirable attributes to this novel. First, Christopher’s character, though he clearly suffers from a behavioral disability, is never portrayed as pitiful. In fact, the reader, by experiencing Christopher’s story first-hand, learns how many of his behavioral quirks can actually be valuable assets. Christopher’s parents are an honest portrayal of raising a special needs child and the different approaches to doing so.
Parents and older children will find much to discuss within this book: Was Christopher’s father correct to hide the fact that his mother left? Why did his mother leave? How does Christopher handle his emotions differently than you and me? Christopher’s family changes shape several times through the book—how does a family’s shape influence its dynamics?
This story for kids is not for younger readers; it’s most appropriate for teens. If you are going on a trip or have a holiday coming up, consider picking up two copies of this book and read it alongside your child; it’s a story best enjoyed through discussion.