Published in 2003, Mark Hatton’s “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is a mystery novel set in England. It’s narrated by a fifteen year old boy, Christopher Boone. He has Asperger’s syndrome but this is only mentioned in the book notes. Hatton writes in the first person, which I believe increases the sense of intimacy in the story. The main theme of this book explores Christopher’s experience of living with Asperger’s syndrome and how his condition impacts his parents.
The novel opens with Christopher discovering the slain body of Wellington, Mrs Shears’s poodle, on her front lawn. Against his father’s wishes Christopher investigates the dog’s murder. He documents his findings in a book as part of a school assignment. Throughout his detective work Christopher learns the truth not only about Wellington’s murder but also about his parents. Deeply shocked by his discovery he flees from Swindon to London. The long and harrowing journey forces him to face and overcome many of his fears.
Christopher’s character shows common symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome. For example, he has a rigidity of thought patterns and an obsessive dependence on unalterable facts. Christopher detests anything yellow or brown and decides how his day will be by the number of yellow or red cars he sees on the road in the morning. He knows “all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7507”.
Christopher’s condition affects his perception of the world and his ability to engage with others. He can’t understand jokes. It’s difficult for him to read people’s body language. He uses logic and order to make sense of things but “too much information” overwhelms him as do crowds and loud noises.
Hatton shows how Christopher’s life is very isolating. Christopher doesn’t socialise with friends. He avoids chatting to strangers except when he deems it necessary, such as when he interviews people in his street as part of his investigation. Christopher also rejects physical contact and won’t even let his parents hug him.
I feel most for Christopher’s father. With patience and understanding Mr Boone devotes his life to looking after his son. He asks Christopher what he would like for dinner and prepares all meals according to Christopher’s strict specifications.
Christopher, because of his inability to empathise, seems to lack an appreciation of his father’s efforts. While Mr Boone tries his best to be patient, at times he becomes frustrated with Christopher’s behaviour.
Mr Boone is very protective of his son. His desire to shield Christopher from the truth leads him to lie about the end of his marriage. However Christopher views his father’s deception as a betrayal. Because Christopher equates love with telling the truth, he becomes convinced that his father must not love him. While Mrs Boone clearly cares for her son, she lacks confidence and patience when dealing with Christopher’s inappropriate behaviours and obsessive needs.
This story has conflict and action but I found the narrator’s lengthy explanations and detailed observations slowed the pace. Some parts are funny, such as the scene where Christopher hits the policeman as well as his comments on his “special needs” classmates.
Christopher’s inability to connect with others saddened me. I believe, however, that the story illustrates his detachment probably protects him from being deeply affected by the tensions of those around him. It also helps him cope with volatile and overwhelming situations.
Overall, I enjoyed this book as it was interesting and unique.