Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the few books that I would put on a “must read” list for everyone. Honestly, it moved me to tears, and I had to put it down in places because I got a little overwhelmed.
This first person narrative, told by Christopher John Francis Boone doesn’t only explore the narrator’s deep desire to uncover the culprit in the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog, it explores the mind of a 15-year-old boy who knows every prime number up to 7,057, doesn’t understand human emotions but relates well to animals (especially his pet rat Toby), hates to be touched, and despises the color yellow with a passion I reserve for…really, I don’t think I detest anything with the verve Christopher despises yellow. Christopher struggles with the world because he sees everything, and when you see everything I can imagine the world feels too big, too much, and definitely too busy. He likes small places, dreams of being an astronaut for the quiet stillness of space, and expounds on mathematical theory that, quite frankly, I’m not sure I really understood.
One of my favorite things, that didn’t really hit me until I finished the book, was the insight the reader has of the people who are part of Christopher’s life. Although Christopher doesn’t understand what expressions of human emotion mean, he sees them and passes them on to the reader. Through him, we grasp what the narrator doesn’t, Christopher’s parents’ struggle with a child who can’t stand more than the most minor touches. You get a clear sense of their heartache when they desperately want to give their son the physical comfort that so many of us take for granted, but Christopher cannot bear. The reader understands the strength, courage, patience and amazing love that raising a child with these challenges takes.
All of this makes it sound like this is a dour novel, but it isn’t. The emotion, that Christopher wouldn’t understand at all, is neatly balanced with humor and brilliance. Christopher’s honesty and other characters reactions…most of us aren’t used to unflinching, uncompromising honesty, and the reactions he gets when he just tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, are beyond humorous. It also gives the reader a real look at how often we aren’t completely honest. The details we leave out to prevent embarrassment, the white lies we tell to avoid an uncomfortable situation, the conversations we skip to prevent us from dealing with confrontation. These things aren’t necessarily dishonest, but for someone like Christopher who doesn’t understand how to lie, these every day ‘courtesies’ look like lies and dishonesty.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offers the reader insights into humanity, emotion, and the strengths and failings of people all through the eyes of someone who is unable to process most of those things. Christopher’s journey through the mystery of Wellington’s death and the truth it reveals about his neighbors, his family and himself is poignant and beautiful. You get to see the impact he makes on those who surround him. His uncomfortable truths push them into growth they probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. Christopher’s awkward questions oftentimes push people into recognizing pieces of themselves that they’ve never had to think about before. The supporting cast in this novel finds what’s really important to them, the devastation that can arise from the most well-intentioned white lies, that just because you don’t understand the way someone else cares it doesn’t mean that they don’t, and Christopher, well, he learns the most important lesson. The one that anyone who has ever been told they aren’t enough needs to know. Christopher learns that he can do anything. The novel’s final paragraph tugged on my heart, but the ending….it’s….better than good. It is inspiring.
It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.
‘Til next time,