Imagine a book without emotions. Imagine a book without flamboyance. Imagine a book without a central theme. I just finished a book that I thought lacked those elements and as I progressed I found myself nodding, whispering to myself: This book has something in it. Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-Time' is a first perspective narration of an autistic boy who, because a sudden change in circumstances, is forced to break his living pattern and step out of the circle.
Many times through the course of reading this book I thought of Chris Boone, the central character, as an immature/poorly coded robot that's having a difficult time living with the rest of the humans. Chris is mathematically excellent and socially abysmal. And whatever little civic sense he has is a result of the laws of the society ingrained in him by his father and school teachers. His activities are more like a scheduler executing task, making us wonder if it's possible for him to emote at all.
One night, Chris finds his neighbour's dog killed by a garden fork. He sets out to find the killer and in the course of his investigation, records what transpires in his personal diary - which is the novel we get to read. Chris finds out about his parents' bitter relationships with his neighbours, and who the killer is. Knowing who the killer is frightens him, and he steps out of his home which provides us some in-depth understanding of how every street and corner is information-loaded for an autistic child/adult. Chris' ordeals out of his home are thrilling and exciting, but not in the sense that we are used to reading all the while. It's not nail-biting, but there is a certain degree of curiousity in the reader to know what would happen next.
There's a very compelling scene in the book where a character tells Chris that he is selfish and he doesn't think at all about anybody anytime and all that concerns his life is only himself. Emotions are running high for people around him because of him and he can't understand or reciprocate their feelings. Haddon does a very good job of narrating the events without any attachment to the characters and at the same time allows us to sympathize with some of the characters. In fact, a review by an autistic at amazon.com reveals that the book gets it right in painting the picture of the world from their point of view.
In it's heart, I found the book to be a love story - between the father and the son. The father is not merely tolerant or patient to put up with his son's impairment or quirkinesses. But the father whole-heartedly accepts his son as he is - which to me is the essence of love and intelligence of the highest order.
Originally posted on CP on July 25, 2006.