The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
When I first read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, before I got my diagnosis of Autism, I felt that I could relate to it, although at face value, The Curious Incident’s narrator and I are very different people.
The Curious Incident, written by Mark Haddon, is narrated by 15-year-old Christopher Boone. Christopher is gifted in the areas of maths and physics and is studying for maths A-level.
He often doesn’t understand what people are saying to him; he considers metaphors and idioms to be lies, since their literal meaning is simply untrue.
Facial expressions move too fast for Christopher to decipher, he cannot ‘do’ chatting, regarding it as a series of seemingly unrelated statements.
He cannot tell lies, and knows that while people say that he should always tell the truth, they don’t always mean this. For example, you are not supposed to tell someone that they smell.
Christopher would certainly fit into the diagnostic criteria of High-Functioning Autism. But the novel does not mention this diagnosis, although Christopher attends a special school.
It is significant that Autism and related terms are absent from the novel: it allows the reader to consider Christopher as a person, and not a diagnostic label.
The book is written consistently with the narrator’s character. The narrative is relatively simple, with few literary devices, definitely no metaphors, and brutal honesty, which is sometimes humorous.
Christopher does not usually like novels because they are full of metaphors which make no sense to him, and they are not true. The exception is murder mystery novels, because he can use logic to work out the puzzle. So when he finds his neighbour’s dog dead, with a garden fork stuck in it, he decides to find out who did it.
His support worker, Siobhan, helps him to turn this mystery into his own novel.
The results of his investigation are both gripping and moving, but not because you want to find out who killed the dog. Rather, you are hooked by the the story of the strange, illogical, tragic and often dishonest actions of ‘normal’ people through Christopher’s mental framework.
The plot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time moves at the perfect pace, and the twists would keep even the most easily bored reader entertained.
But what makes the novel exceptional is the amount that it creates empathy for an individual who is very different from the majority of people.
It teaches us to be less judgemental: Christopher can sometimes scream and hit people, but only because he is confused and scared, not because he is malicious. In public he sometimes behaves unusually, but with access to his mind, we are aware that there are logical reasons for his behaviour.
By seeing things through Christopher’s eyes, we recognise that different ways of thinking are just as good as ‘normal’ ways of thinking, and leads to the questioning of normal ways of doing things.
Christopher is able to focus and detach his mind from anything but the task he is accomplishing. His difference makes some ‘normal’ things challenging – like going out and talking to people. But it also makes challenging things possible, like accomplishing a Maths A level at the age of 15.
I can relate to having a different perspective on the world – a perspective that some people assume is incorrect.
By seeing with Christopher’s eyes, the reader learns to see the world more clearly. You are reminded of the importance of listening to everyone, even if they are different from you, to gain a more complete picture of the world.
The novel finishes with the words “and that means I can do anything.” Difference does not mean inability to achieve. It often means quite the opposite.
Rosie Greco is taking a degree in English with Creative Writing, and has just finished studying at Lancaster University. She is a volunteer for the Outsiders’ Network, is about to begin training as an E-befriender for the National Autistic Society, volunteers at Oxfam, and has also volunteered at an animal sanctuary. She has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and quite enjoys being different! Rosie loves to help people, and wants a career supporting others.
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