The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a really wonderful book, which also happens to be set in my sort-of-home-town Swindon (sort-of because I live in a village next door, but spend an awful lot of time (and work) in Swindon). This hasn’t swayed me in my opinion however, as it does describe Swindon as ‘the arsehole of the world’. (Mind you, there are some who’d say that was true and I would have done too a few years ago, but I’ve mellowed in my old age). It’s a story about a teenager named Christopher Boone who is trying to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. This is perhaps more challenging than it sounds for Christopher, as he has an unnamed condition on the Autism Spectrum which readers have most commonly linked to Asperger Syndrome. This means that there are aspects of daily life which lead Christopher to feel uncomfortable or anxious, especially if he has to speak to strangers or deal with unfamiliar situations. While trying to solve the murder of Wellington, Christopher discovers information about his own family life, which has a great effect on him and leads him to run away from home.
Christopher’s viewpoint is a really unique perspective to read from, and is fascinating as well as engaging although I don’t know how accurate the depiction of Autism or Asperger Syndrome is. Christopher is an extremely logical thinker, and so the book as written in his perspective is also very logical and matter of fact. It’s almost written as a book within a book, as the story told within the book is also a story written by Christopher for a school project. The writing is very clear with very little description and nothing in the way of ‘padding’, as the character of Christopher explains that he struggles to understand similes and metaphors and would rather people wrote things as they were in a straightforward way. This is therefore the style adopted by Mark Haddon throughout the book, which makes it incredibly readable and easy to absorb.
The story itself is also quite engrossing. It’s almost a thriller in a way, although less gritty than is the norm. The book begins with a murder mystery, although it does almost seem quite comic. The victim was a poodle after all, and while it is distressing to think of a poodle being speared with a pitch fork, it’s hardly a high priority crime for the police to deal with. However it does gain more thriller elements as the book progresses, as there are a few twists and turns and some shocking revelations for Christopher to deal with. There was one scene in particular which I found extremely stressful to read, which was a scene where Christopher lost his pet rat Toby in the London underground and climbed down onto the train tracks to retrieve him. I don’t know which made me feel more anxious, the possibility of Christopher getting hit by a train or the thought that he might lose Toby forever. It was really interesting to read how Christopher coped (or at times failed to cope) with the situations he found himself in though, and the defence mechanisms he developed such as groaning or counting number sequences. I don’t know whether the character of Christopher is a fair portrayal of the thought processes with someone who has Autism, and this isn’t really something I can ever know by only reading portrayals written by people who don’t themselves have Autism. However I found it to be a very intriguing perspective to read from, and I thought Christopher was very defined in his characterisation.
I did also manage to see a stage version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which was shown at my local cinema. It was a really interesting interpretation actually, and very well staged. It made clever use of sounds and images to represent Christopher’s thought processes and coping mechanisms, especially when he was feeling particularly anxious, and also used movement and dance in a really excellent way. Whereas the book is meant to be a story that Christopher wrote, the stage version is meant to be a play written by Christopher and narrated by his teacher Siobhan. It works just as well in this way, and I find it really pleasing that it can be adapted in equally meta ways for different narrative mediums. I think in a way the play might actually have been better to watch in the cinema rather than seeing it performed in the theatre, as the version I saw was performed in the round but made great use of different camera angles to really show the whole picture, which I think would have been lacking if I’d seen it actually in the theatre. I thought the whole cast was great (even if Christopher’s mother as played by Nicola Walker was very shouty all of the time), but the version I saw featured Luke Treadaway as Christopher, and he really was excellent. I couldn’t fault him, or the production in general. I thought the use of choreography was excellent, even more so considering it was rather unexpected but really very effective.
In general, I think The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a really great story. The plot isn’t overly complicated and might not seem that interesting or dramatic considering it’s a teenage boy trying to find a dog’s killer and travel to London to see his mother, but when you consider the daily difficulties Christopher faces it becomes a greater task than it first appears. The narrative style is really engaging, and Christopher is such a likeable, endearing character. He’s a confused teenage boy and I kind of just wanted to mother him. I’d definitely want to give him the equivalent of a hug but without the physical contact, as he’d only hate it if he was actually hugged. It’s a really warm story told from the perspective of a really well fleshed out character with quite a unique viewpoint, and I look forward to reading more from Mark Haddon in the future.