The International Writers Magazine: Reviews
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
by Mark Haddon
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Jonathon Cape 2003
ISBN: 0 099 450 259
Boone is fifteen and from Swindon. His next-door neighbours
dog has been murdered with a garden fork and nobody seems to care.
His mother died suddenly and mysteriously, and if that wasnt
enough, Christopher has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism.
The plotline of
this novel may seem far-fetched then, considering it was originally
written for children, yet this award-winning book (Whitbread 2003
and Childrens Book of the year) has somehow transcended the
barrier between childrens literature and adult fiction.
Haddon writes from Christophers point of view. This is perhaps
a risky narrative, yet through his voice, this relatively new form of
autism (which has only been a clinical diagnosis since1994), is explored.
A fair question to ask then, would be whether this extraordinarily successful
novel is a genuine attempt to dispel misconceptions surrounding autism,
or whether it is a desperate attempt to cash in on this un-marked, un-exploited
Anyone who has read this novel will tell you what a compelling story
it is an old-fashioned mystery adventure with more than a hint
of drama, but what have they learnt from it?
Haddon uses characters to highlight the general misunderstandings and
intolerance towards autistic people. From neighbours to policemen, these
figures represent common ideas, for example, that autistic people are
simply rude, misbehaved, or stupid. These characters are portrayed as
mildly villainous; they swear excessively and use patronising, sarcastic
tones. A good example of this is the scene on the train in which Christopher
encounters many stranger dangers. He is hiding on a shelf
when somebody says, Come and look at this Barry, theyve
got a train elf, (p.32). All the while the image of a vulnerable
boy hiding and scared is haunting and disconcerting. We are encouraged
to empathise with Christophers confusion and fears so that we,
as a collective, will be more considerate of autistic people.
The parents are also important characters to consider. Through them
we are given an insight into the difficulties of bringing up an autistic
child, which could help young parents. For example, when Christopher
comes home complaining that a boy had called him a spazzer,
his father gives the age-old response, that Terry was just
jealous (p.32). This reminds us of our own parents, and so
Christopher is not so different from us he suffers from growing
pains as much as any teenager.
One criticism of this novel however, is that although it is written
from the point of view of an autistic child, it is unlikely that he
could articulate his thoughts so clearly in real life. As Eric Chen,
a writer and autistic sufferer, puts it, Warning: This book
will not help you understand real autistics. A worrying comment,
since the National Autistic Society commonly recommends this book for
parents and teachers. Apparently, autistic children are not as self-aware
as Haddon would have us believe, nor do they think as logically in our
sense of the word. Though these may be fundamental flaws, it is clear
that they are necessary to produce a best seller. If a sugarcoated perspective
of autism was not given, there would indeed be no coherent story.
By the end of the book, a clear insight and awareness is gained from
the portrayal of Christopher. We know that he is not rude, misbehaved,
and he is definitely not stupid. Haddons novel deserves all its
praise and success, as the final conclusion of the story hopefully marks
a beginning of tolerance and an open attitude towards autism.
© Liz Barlow December 2006
Liz is a Creative Writing student at the University of Portsmouth
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