Global Book Report Competition
Book Report: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
By Mark Haddon
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Written by: Foo Yang Yi (4I107)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time utilises a rather interesting means of expression compared to what one may usually find in a literary text. Written from the first-person-view of a fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher Boone, the story in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is written exactly like he sees it. Of course, first-person narratives have been done before, the main factors that enable this text to become a special and outstanding exception are the inherent traits of the protagonists – mainly, his behavioural difficulties in interacting with other people. Indeed, Christopher himself is quick to acknowledge this. In the start of the novel, he plainly says “I find people confusing.”
In this story, we follow his thought processes and actions as he seeks to solve the mystery of the culprit behind the death of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Beginning with finding the Wellington’s corpse, he eventually reaches his revelation. However, the story doesn’t end there. Initially believing his mother to be dead, he deduces from a stash of letters that she is actually alive, and his father lied about her death simply because he wanted to wait till Christopher was old enough before revealing to him that they were divorced. As such, Christopher gains an irrational fear of his father, as he learns at the same time that he was the one who killed Wellington. Therefore, he makes the decision to run away from home. By this point, the extent of Christopher’s behavioural difficulties is made clear – he had already hit a police officer because he didn’t like being touched.
Following these events, Christopher decides to make a trip to London to find his mother. What might seem like an ordinary trip to us is in fact an adventure to someone like Christopher. A lot of the human interaction skills that we usually take for granted must now be learned by Christopher. While previously having grown up under a sheltered environment that could adequately cater to his needs, he is effectively thrust into the wild, forced to take care of himself in situation where he no longer has the support of his father or mentor, Siobhan, to handle issues for him. In addition to that, he does not have the comfort of a different learning pace that his school would have set for him. When he learns new things when travelling on his own, he has to do so fast out of necessity, making this experience a challenging one for him.
While a trip to another place may seem to be a mundane experience for most of us, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time manages to turn this into a special and interesting journey, where Mark Haddon manages to engage his audience and allows them to keep up with the flow of the story easily without inducing boredom associated with details that we normally overlook. Christopher is a one-of-a-kind character. Due to his different methods of dealing with the people he meets, he has a tendency to miss the obvious details that most people would notice first, yet he is also able to notice things in places where we don’t usually look.
A good example of this would be how he reads many of the signs he passes, varying from signs like “CAUTION WET FLOOR” to “Your 50p will keep a premature baby alive”. In our day to day lives, one would usually think little of them – we always focus so much on the task at hand that we overlook such tiny details, which Christopher has managed to pick up. In contrast, when he speaks with a police officer, said officer expresses his shock at Christopher’s possession of a pet rat. Christopher tries to convince the officer that his rat was safe, and that it did not carry the bubonic plague. Said officer sarcastically replies that it was “reassuring”, but Christopher does not detect the sarcasm, simply replying with a “Yes” in response to the remark.
However, the brilliance behind the novel’s delivery lies not just within Christopher’s dialogue, but also in the intermediate thought processes that we actually read. In hindsight, this is also a clever move on Mark Haddon’s part. If the main focus of the story was in the dialogue, it could just as easily be written in third person, with vague references to Christopher’s feelings every now and then, which would not be particularly engaging for the audience since it would effectively be an over-glorified transcript. In the example of the police offer’s response stated earlier, it would be less interesting if it was blatantly stated that the police officer “sarcastically responded” to Christopher’s statement. By writing in first-person, it grants the audience slight amusement when we notice things that Christopher doesn’t. Simply put, the plot of the novel is made less dull when expressed in this manner.
Most commendably, the revelations that we, as the reader, gain from this novel enable us to empathize with Christopher’s reasoning. In most other circumstances, running away from home simply because your father killed your neighbour’s dog would be viewed as absurd. However, we can observe the fear displayed by Christopher. From our point of view, he is established as an innocent boy who really doesn’t know any better in such situations. Apart from the insight into his character, we also recognize the volatility of his mood. Events like seeing 4 yellow cars in a row would cause him to turn moody to the point that he is unwilling to speak to anyone. To most of us, this dislike of the colour yellow would simply be a triviality that most would be able to withstand with no issue. However, due to the extent that this upsets him, we soon regard such fears with a relatively neutral stand, without asking any further questions as to why Christopher has this irrational fear of the colour.
Regrettably, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time also demonstrates in full force how society stigmatizes boys like Christopher. For one, Mr. Shears, the man who moved in with Christopher’s mother following her divorce, is unwilling to shelter Christopher. When Christopher first arrives at his mother’s home, Mr. Shears already shows signs of hostility, treating Christopher’s arrival with the assumption that he brought his father with him. In addition to that, he shows impatience over Christopher’s presence in his flat, stating that the flat was meant to accommodate two people rather than three. In addition to all of these actions, Mr. Shears eventually leaves Christopher’s mother as a result, which in turn also shows the audience the tremendous patience Christopher’s father has demonstrated in raising him till he was fifteen, a trait that Mr. Shears sadly lacks.
In addition to that, Christopher has also met and talked with many adults on his way to London. A rather memorable case would be his experience with the police officer – an authority figure who was viewed by Christopher as a source of help and assistance. Instead, when Christopher asks questions, the policeman derides him with laughter before actually answering his question. In the incident where he laughed, Christopher did not return with laughter since he did not like being laughed at, suggesting a betrayal of Christopher’s trust on the policeman’s part, even if Christopher may not think so himself.
In general, while Mark Haddon has stated that he is not an expert on this subject, it suggests an accurate portrayal of the issues that children like these have to deal with, as well as the respect deserved by the parents who were willing to stay with the child while they grew up with this disadvantage. Some adults, like Mr. Shears or arguably, Christopher’s mother, lack the patience of others like Christopher’s father. Of course, it also shows the amount of stress these adults go through. As a result of an argument between Mrs. Shears and Christopher’s father, he eventually succumbs to pressure and kills Wellington, the very dog in the mystery that Christopher initially wanted to solve.
As for the viewpoint of the child himself, Christopher is unique in that he recognizes that there is a conflict as a result of him, but he does not fully understand the extent of this conflict. As far as he is concerned, he has solved his mystery, thus the title of the book. However, I believe that there is a reason why Mark Haddon chose to extend the book to cover the entire conflict regarding Christopher’s journey and the subsequent argument between his parents. In terms of the mystery, the book would have ended within the first few chapters, for the mystery was indeed solved. However, the probable reason why the plot of this book was extended was because this societal stigma and behavioural difficulty is indeed a very real issue in modern society, and thus an underlying message has to be sent.
I believe that although this book is laudable for its efforts in demonstrating these underlying issues, critics may attack it for its choice of genre – is teenage fiction a truly suitable genre to discuss such a topic, where there are many other genres that could be explored that would better the execution of conveying this message? Personally, I believe that if the target audience is indeed teenagers, then Mark Haddon has met his goal in writing this book, because the language is in no way exaggerated, but in fact the opposite – it is simple to understand, and it conveys its point in a powerful manner.