Monday, February 22, 2021

'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' by Mark Haddon

Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, for fifteen-year-old Christopher everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning. He lives on patterns, rules, and a diagram kept in his pocket. Then one day, a neighbor's dog, Wellington, is killed and his carefully constructive universe is threatened. Christopher sets out to solve the murder in the style of his favourite (logical) detective, Sherlock Holmes. What follows makes for a novel that is funny, poignant and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing are a mind that perceives the world entirely literally.


This book is celebrated as an inventive and original prizewinner with rave reviews, so I grabbed it when I saw it on a free book table, even though I was cautious about a story with a murdered dog. Violence and cruelty to animals is no draw card for me, but at least it's clear this dog is already dead at the start. 

Christopher Boone is a 15-year-old who discovers his neighbour's poodle, Wellington, lying dead with a pitchfork through his flank. Grieved and upset because he likes dogs too, Christopher decides to record his process in writing as he tracks down the killer.

Although he's highly intelligent with logic and mathematics, Christopher knows this will be a challenge for him, because he thinks differently from others. He cherishes order above all and can't stand change. He has a photographic memory but can't filter details, so reaches the point of TMI incredibly fast, and has extreme reactions that stretch his carers' capacity skills to the limit. He finds it difficult to relate to others because he can't read their feelings and emotions. And the concept of a sense of humour bewilders him, because the subtlety and nuances of dialogue has always eluded him. 

I really wanted to enjoy this read, but didn't quite get there. 

Have you ever settled down for a light-hearted evening with one of those movies that are touted as comedies, but end up having some heavy, tear-jerking agenda that depresses you instead? This book let me down in a similar way. It's not that anything is wrong except for misleading advertising. It's irritating when we don't get the story we trust we've committed several hours to. In this case, based on the title, blurb, and darkly comic cover, I expected a whimsical mystery about an Aspy teen who manages to solve a crime by piecing together random clues which other people miss. And I expected they'd be dropped at intervals throughout the story. But what we actually end up getting is a very angsty drama about Christopher and his dysfunctional family, with one melt-down after another from various characters with no satisfying resolution.

So I feel it's fair to warn other mystery enthusiasts at the outset that Christopher finds no actual clues in his sleuthing at all, and Wellington's killer is revealed way early on. I actually guessed who it would be. This book has a small cast of characters so it's not that difficult, but I'd hoped the culprit would come up with a far better excuse! The circumstances and motivation do this person no credit.

Another irritation is Christopher's dismissive attitude toward certain concepts he can't wrap his mind around, which feel like they're coming from the author Mark Haddon as much as from the boy himself. Like several other logic dominated people I've come across, Christopher scoffs at things he can't understand, such as heaven and the supernatural. He ridicules people who choose faith as a guiding factor in their lives, and basically calls them deluded idiots. Anything way off his radar is dismissed as foolish, non-existent, or something that will surely be dissected thoroughly under the microscopes of the future. People like Chris (and I assume Haddon) would surely shake their heads if anyone suggested that a God small enough to wrap our heads around wouldn't be much of a God. 

Finally, the main adults in Christopher's life aren't particularly admirable, and often come across as self-focused and unwilling to accept curve balls in their lives without a load of griping. Even his father Ed, who's probably most committed, has issues with instability and poor decision making. I know they're under a lot of stress, but it doesn't make for an enjoyable read.   

I'm guessing Mark Haddon's main reason for writing it is to give readers a rare glimpse into the headspace of someone with high functioning autism, so that we can empathise with what they must go through every day. All the puzzled misunderstanding of speech that most others seem to get instantly. The weird looks and rude reactions from people who in turn don't understand that your thinking loops are wired differently. The overwhelming anxiety over stimuli which is pooh-poohed by others but extremely real to you. Based on many other reviews, he pulled it off super successfully, but I still would have preferred it if he and his publishing team had been upfront with all this, rather than leading us to believe it's a mystery story. 

It's a highly readable book and full of interesting trivia, so deserves three stars rather than two, but overall, it wasn't my cup of tea. 



  1. characters are unlikable and the book as a whole is rather depressing. Interesting book but I think there are much better offering that deal with this theme that are more hopeful and positive (The Rosie trilogy, Lisa Genova's Love Anthony, Jodie Picoult's House Rules, C G Drews The Boy Who Steals Houses, Anne Hamilton's Daystar)

    1. Hi Jenny, you're so right. Even Christopher, the main character, doesn't have that special ingredient written in to make us really bond with him. And as for his parents... What a train wreck 😢 Sadly depressing indeed.

  2. Great review. The book does sound fascinating and original. I agree that when you are in the mood for one thing and you get something else it can mar an experience.

    1. Hi Brian, yes, it's at those moments we ask, 'Why can't they be upfront?' It's as if they have something to hide. This book does have many 5 star rankings on Goodreads though, so obviously worked for many readers.

  3. This one was a let-down for me too, Paula, you're not alone! I didn't connect with Christopher the way I expected/hoped to, and the story didn't do what it said on the tin. Ah well, they can't all be winners!

    1. Hi Sheree, yep, you win some and lose some, when it comes to reading :) But we live and learn.