The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

9 Jul

Bibliographic Information

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, Vintage, 2004, ISBN: 978-1400032716

Plot Summary

When fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone finds his neighbor’s dog stabbed to death on his front lawn with a pitchfork, he decides to play detective and solve the case.  As a “mathematician with some behavioral difficulties” (Christopher never identifies himself as someone with Asperger Syndrome but he shares many of the behaviors and personality traits as someone with that condition), he is naturally suited for detective work as he is obsessive with small details and facts.  It’s the bigger picture he has difficulty understanding.  His inability to empathize with others or pick up on emotional cues makes his investigation more complicated, especially with his father who wants him to drop the case immediately.  Christopher doesn’t understand why his father feels so strongly about his detective work, until he uncovers a dark family secret: the mother he thought was dead is actually living in London.  Unable to trust his father or feel safe in his own home, he runs away and begins a perilous journey to the big city.

For someone who needs predictability and routine, traveling to a new place to meet a stranger is a near impossible task.  Christopher must draw upon every resource he has to navigate the train and locate his mother.  When he finally reaches her, he uncovers more secrets that his father has kept from him. With his family’s life in turmoil, Christopher must find a way to move forward with a father who he doesn’t trust and a mother who may not be able to provide the care he needs.

Critical Evaluation

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime has one of the most original and entertaining narrators in fiction.  Christopher’s literal mindedness creates some of the novel’s funniest moments.  When Christopher finds the dog, for example, he describes the scene as follows:

“The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.  The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over.  I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer, for example, or a road accident.”

This literal mindedness also creates heartbreaking scenes in the book when Christopher demonstrates he is incapable of empathizing with either of his parents, who clearly love him.  What starts out as a mystery of who killed the dog becomes a family saga in which three people are torn apart by a condition that doesn’t allow Christopher to love his parents in the same way they love him.

The author Marc Haddon has stated that this is “not a book about Asperger’s…[but] about difference.”  Christopher shares many of the behavioral traits as someone on the autism spectrum and readers will gain insight on how that condition affects those who have it and how it affects their caretakers as well. The scene in which Christopher has to navigate the train station is one of the most perilous journeys the character has to take given his reaction to loud noises and chaos.

Reader’s Annotation

Christopher John Francis Boone is one of the most original voices to appear in fiction in the last ten years.  As a “mathematician with some behavioral difficulties”, he tries to act like his hero, Sherlock Holmes and solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog.  What he uncovers when he starts investigating the crime, however, are family secrets that will change his life forever.

Information about the author

Mark Haddon was born on September 26, 1962.  He is an English novelist and poet who has written three novels: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, A Spot of Bother, and The Red House.   

Genres

Literature and Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense

Curriculum Ties

English, Health

Booktalking Ideas

Is Christopher’s father a weak or strong character?

How does Christopher’s condition help him in his investigation?  How does it hurt him?

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 9 and up

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this title?

This is one of my favorite books in recent years.  It is a great novel to teach students the power of voice in writing.  Christopher Boone is one of the most original characters to appear in fiction and an interesting successor to the classic detective Sherlock Holmes. The story is both funny and tragic and becomes more complex as the story unfolds.

 

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