Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Erin Whitney

It’s common knowledge that most readers do not give great reviews to books in which animals die. There are, of course, exceptions: Call of the Wild and Old Yeller.

A case can also be made that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, is also worthy of exception.

By the end of the first page, the reader is left with the memory of a dog impaled with a garden fork (pitchfork) and the question of who wielded the weapon. The canine in question, Wellington, belonged to Mrs. Shears, the neighbor of the protagonist, Christopher. Christopher had a very close relationship with Wellington; he thinks dogs are easier to interact with than people. For a mystery novel, a dog’s murder on the first page is an unusual beginning.

From the start, preconceived notions of coming-of-age, murder mystery, and dark comedy novels are broken. By the time the murderer is revealed, readers will have been taken through a whirlwind story with violent twists and turns that end stereotypes. In true murder mystery fashion, readers are able to solve the mystery right along with Christopher, the protagonist and narrator. This makes the story more exciting because readers feel more engaged.

Christopher is a 15-year-old boy with Aspergers Syndrome, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as it’s called today. Writing the narrator as a disabled person is another unexpected twist that Mark Haddon throws the reader’s way.

As Christopher works to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog, readers come to understand his unique and refreshing perspective. He is skeptical of everything he’s told, often finding himself in trouble for telling adults that what they said is wrong or doesn’t make sense. Christopher’s perspective is delightfully honest, and well after they finish the book, readers will find themselves questioning that which they previously took for granted.

This book inspires a real reflection of the world and of our relationships with other people: Christopher notes that people should just say clearly what they’re feeling, rather than assuming that people already know. Christopher’s adventure is quick-paced, but he still takes time to examine (and often correct in his own entertaining way) many attitudes and mindsets. Mark Haddon wrote on his website that this is not a novel about ASD; rather, it’s a novel about having a “surprising and revealing” world-view.

Whether the novel is meant to be about ASD or not, it’s important to be accurate when dealing with a real world topic, especially since this will be some readers’ introduction to the perspective of a person with ASD. This novel, unfortunately, misses that mark. It paints an inaccurate picture of a person with the syndrome, engendering controversy and criticism from the autism community. Readers should keep this in mind as they read the book. Mark Haddon himself admits that he had done no research on autism before writing it, throwing away an opportunity to accurately portray ASD.

Of note is the use of profanity in the book, which is extensive. While the many expletives are strategically placed to add intensity to intense chapters, readers may take issue with the abundant foul language.

While the dog does meet an unfortunate fate, the story he inspires is worth discovering.

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time offers a unique literary experience that will have readers eagerly turning its pages.

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