“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” traces the story of Christopher John Francis Boone – a 15-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome, revealed by writer Mark Haddon in the book’s blurb – who investigates the murder of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Through his first-hand account more is learnt about Boone, his family, and above all the challenges of living with an autism spectrum disorder, without condescension or insensitivity of these experiences. In fact as Boone uncovers more clues in his search for the murderer, the reader finds out more about his peculiarities, and eventually realises that this murder mystery is actually a red herring, segueing into revelations in his life.
And even though the book is a short read, it did take a long time for the plot to get going, with too much information on Boone’s background in the beginning. In-between the chapters detailing the investigation, Haddon digresses into random musings – about religion, mathematical problems, even the idea of consciousness – which oftentimes seem out of place. These could have been attempts, as I thought at the start, to detail what a person with Asperger’s may be thinking. Yet in a blog post in 2009, Haddon wrote he slightly regretted the reference to the syndrome on the book cover, because it is “not a book about [it] … If anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s as much a novel about us as it is about [Boone]”.
(A similar complaint was made about Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, of the unrealistic representation of the young protagonist Oskar Schell, who lost his father to the September 11 attacks, and has had difficulty coping with the loss.)
Perhaps that is the reason why the chapters about detective fiction and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles” – a genre which I enjoy – resonated with me, even though these allusions to clues and red herrings and the need to be observant were supposed to tie in with Boone’s own endeavours to uncover the truth. And he traipses from one revelation to another the reader may identify with the associated emotions, with further uncertainty as to what may happen next. From a slow start the pace of the book does pick up, and one revelation after another the reader becomes a little more anxious, though ultimately relieved towards the end.