A couple of days ago, I picked up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and ended up reading through it in just a few hours.  The narrator in the novel is 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who is on the autistic spectrum.  At the beginning of the book, Christopher finds that someone has killed his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, and he sets out to solve the mystery of who committed the murder.  His investigation ends up revealing a lot more about both Christopher himself and the people who live around him.

I think that Haddon did an excellent job of writing with his main character’s voice.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is different from a typical novel in many ways.  Instead of chapters, the book has short sections labeled with the prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23… up to 233).

These sections may at times seem to leap around to unrelated topics, discussing math, history, and philosophy in the middle of painstakingly detailed descriptions of seemingly mundane events.  But if you give Christopher time to lay out his thoughts neatly, you will find that it is all connected quite logically; in fact, it helps to explain actions on Christopher’s part that other characters in the novel’s world do not understand.

Most novels introduce the major characters with at least a paragraph describing their appearance and mannerisms.  This book never does so, even for Christopher’s father and mother, because those social cues are not what Christopher notices.  When he does include descriptive information, the things he notices are often not what would be apparent to other people– and he always explains that he is deliberately including a passage of description because he knows he is supposed to.

The novel includes a lot of diagrams and figures in accordance with how visually Christopher’s mind works, and it does a great job of getting across the idea of sensory overload.  When Christopher has to navigate through a train station, he sees the words of every sign, every ad, every bit of graffiti screaming at him, and it makes him physically ill.  It takes all of his will to find the next bit of information he needs.

I found that there were a great many things about Christopher’s writing style that reminded me of my own, particularly his effort to be specific and exact about what he means.  Interestingly, the book never mentions Asperger’s, non-verbal learning disorder, or any specific diagnostic label other than autism to describe Christopher.  I think that this was a good choice, because it allows you to see Christopher as his own person, without getting distracted by what category he fits into.  Still, reading the book helped me to clarify some of my thinking about the way that my mind works– and it helped me to understand a little more about some of the traits of autism that don’t apply to me.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been thinking, and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that in my next post!

(One last note I should make– I would certainly recommend this book for others to read, but I should mention that it contains strong language; it’s not a children’s book.)

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