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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon


Rating: (Recommended)


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Mark Haddon’s debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time does something that I can’t recall any other work of fiction doing: the narrator has autism. Thanks to Haddon’s skill, readers are able to glimpse at the way the world looks to someone with autism. The charm in the novel is the way the narrator presents the plot with clarity and sincerity, helping us understand his world view as we go along. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 47, pp. 24-26, which is the 15th chapter, because they are numbered with the prime numbers only, something that a person with autism would be expected to do:


In the bus on the way to school next morning we passed 4 red cars in a row, which meant that it was a Good Day, so I decided not to be sad about Wellington.

Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks. He said that I was clearly a very logical person, so he was surprised that I should think like this because it wasn't very logical.

I said that I liked things to be in a nice order. And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical. Especially if those things were numbers or an argument. But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order. And that was why I had Good Days and Black Days. And I said that some people who worked in an office came out of their house in the morning and saw that the sun was shining and it made them feel happy, or they saw that it was raining and it made them feel sad, but the only difference was the weather and if they worked in an office the weather didn't have anything to do with whether they had a good day or a bad day.

I said that when Father got up in the morning he always put his trousers on before he put his socks on and it wasn't logical but he always did it that way, because he liked things in a nice order, too. Also whenever he went upstairs he went up two at a time, always starting with his right foot.

Mr. Jeavons said that I was a very clever boy.

I said that I wasn't clever. I was just noticing how things were, and that wasn't clever. That was just being observant. Being clever was when you looked at how things were and used the evidence to work out something new. Like the universe expanding, or who committed a murder. Or if you see someone's name and you give each letter a value from I to 26 (a = I, b—2, etc.) and you add the numbers up in your head and you find that it makes a prime number, like Jesus Christ (151), or Scooby-Doo (115), or Sherlock Holmes (165), or Doctor Watson (167).

Mr. Jeavons asked me whether this made me feel safe, having things always in a nice order, and I said it did.

Then he asked if I didn't like things changing. And I said I wouldn't mind things changing if I became an astronaut, for example, which is one of the biggest changes you can imagine, apart from becoming a girl or dying.

He asked, whether I wanted to become an astronaut and I said I did.

He said that it was very difficult to become an astronaut. I said that I knew. You had to become an officer in the air force and you had to take lots of orders and be prepared to kill other human beings, and I couldn't take orders. Also I didn't have 20/20 vision, which you needed to be a pilot. But I said that you could still want something that is very unlikely to happen.

Terry, who is the older brother of Francis, who is at the school, said I would only ever get a job collecting supermarket trollies or cleaning out donkey shit at an animal sanctuary and they didn't let spazzers drive rockets that cost billions of pounds.

When I told this to Father he said that Terry was jealous of my being cleverer than him. Which was a stupid thing to think because we weren't in a competition. But Terry is stupid, so quod erat demonstrandum, which is Latin for which is the thing that was going to be proved, which means thus it is proved.

I'm not a spazzer, which means spastic, not like Francis, who is a spazzer, and even though I probably won't become an astronaut, I am going to go to university and study mathematics, or physics, or physics and mathematics (which is a Joint Honor School), because I like mathematics and physics and I'm very good at them. But Terry won't go to university. Father says Terry is most likely to end up in prison.

Terry has a tattoo on his arm of a heart shape with a knife through the middle of it.

But this is what is called a digression, and now I am going to go back to the fact that it was a Good Day.

Because it was a Good Day I decided that I would try and find out who killed Wellington because a Good Day is a day for projects and planning things.

When I said this to Siobhan she said, "Well, we're meant to be writing stories today, so why don't you write about finding Wellington and going to the police station."

And that is when I started writing this.

And Siobhan said that she would help with the spelling and the grammar and the footnotes.

The Curious Incident was the best debut novel I’ve read so far this year.

Steve Hopkins, August 22, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Curious Incident.htm


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