The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

By Mark Haddon

15-year-old Christopher Boone has Asperger’s Syndrome. He likes red, Maths, and confined spaces; he can’t read expressions; he doesn’t like the colours yellow and brown; hates being touched; cannot cope with crowds of people or strangers; has problems understanding non-literal language and inexplicit instructions; and doesn’t like the food on his plate touching.

After he finds his neighbour’s dog dead, skewered with a garden fork, he decides to investigate the matter to track down the killer. In the course of his enquiries, he uncovers a secret, which briefly takes him to London before he returns to Swindon to sit his A-level Maths exam.

The book ends with Christopher reflecting on his successes and his firm conviction that he can do anything.

The final message is a bit clumsy because of its obviousness, and it felt a bit abrupt. Christopher succeeds because the story requires him to do so, but I was also left wondering whether the message could possibly be true because of level of support which the boy would need to become a scientist.

Christopher’s parent seem to be archetypes. His dad is more patient than his mum, but even he has his limits, and he makes his son promise to stop investigating Wellington’s death. It’s after his dad takes his book away that Christopher discovers a secret, and it is also when his father really loses his patience out of the frustration of dealing with someone who lacks the ability to effectively interact with others. Christopher’s mum had less patience and that put the marriage under pressure.

The book is written as if Christopher himself had written it, although there are times when certain passages (especially some of his reasoning) can be skipped without any great loss.

I’ve thought about buying The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time several times over the past few years, but had never got round to it till now because we’ve been talking about replacing To Kill a Mockingbird (mainly because of issues with the language and style; also, I think the book is overrated, but that’s just me). Would The Curious Incident be a reasonable replacement for it?

I think our students would relate to Christopher to some extent. They like Maths, they’re literal-minded, and they have a limited understanding of the world. (They are, I believe, more ignorant than I was at their age even if they can do Maths at a third-year university level.) The language in the book is mostly undemanding, but there are a few tortuous passages where they’d give up, and it’s sometimes adult (which may or may not get through the vetting process to which, I assume, the book is probably subject).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time would tie in well with TOK and mental health (which we’ve been doing as a second-year topic).

The book is a distinct possibility as a replacement for To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s more contemporary, less obscure in its language, more cohesive, and about a subject which is less alien to our students.