Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Mark Haddon, November 18—22, 2011
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
The advertised premise of The Curious Incident is that a 15-year-old boy, somewhere on the autism spectrum (considered to be Asperger’s by the publishers but not the author), discovers a local dog having been killed. He then investigates the murder and recounts his mystery in first person to the reader. It’s fair to say that the ‘murder’ does not feature as heavily in the plot as you might expect. While it is the cause of the book – started ostensibly by the narrator to document his investigation – the greater focus is on his personal life, particularly in relation to his family. Indeed, the ‘killer’ is unmasked quite early on, however it does start a chain of events which play out to the book’s conclusion.
Your overall satisfaction with the book will depend on what attracted you to it in the first place. The ‘murder’ mystery, as I touched on, doesn’t have a prominent focus. There’s not much in the way of ‘interviews’ or the compiling of ‘motives’ or ‘alibis’, rather it acts as a catalyst.
The plot, as it develops, contains a few surprises and seems to develop quite naturally. Although not ‘as advertised’, it’s clear how one thing leads to another and overall it’s entertaining. I would criticise the ending, though, as it just stops dead. Although you can see how the author has tried to use the final paragraphs as a conclusion, it’s abrupt nonetheless and leaves the reader dissatisfied.
The other principle attraction may indeed be the main character’s learning difficulties, however ambiguous the diagnosis. Haddon admits he did no research on autism before penning the book and it has been panned almost universally by sufferers and those knowledgeable in the condition as inaccurate at best, insulting at worst. However it is a crucial vehicle for the character and indeed the story, and the book quite simply wouldn’t have worked without it.
The character’s autism lends more to the book that the plot, making it the dictionary definition of character-driven drama. There are some kooky quirks, such as the chapters being prime numbers instead of cardinal ones. It gives a new level of detail as the narrator relays his observations, including doodles and drawings and generally brings a fresh twist that wouldn’t have been evident if not for the condition of the narrator and, indeed, his first person narrative.
Having said that, the character’s limited emotional intelligence leaves the book without much depth. There is a little dark humour in there, but the tone is mostly neutral. As such, nothing is dwelt on too much (unless it’s analytically) and this prevents the reader from getting bored.
Although marketed as adult fiction, The Curious Incident won a Children’s Award, which is concerning given the strength of the language (the f-bomb is dropped quite a lot, and there’s even a C U Next Tuesday thrown in there). That being the case I would consider this only suitable for an adult audience.
It’s original, it’s short and while it might not be what you expect, there are few flaws which detract from it. The Curious Incident Starting With the Dog in the Night-Time (as it should be called, apologies to Conan Doyle) probably doesn’t warrant the hype it was awarded, but it’s certainly worth a go.