Haddon's narrator is 15 year old, Christopher Boone, a young man with Asperger's Disorder (an autism spectrum disorder), who lives with his single father following the death of his mother some years before (or is this true?). When Christopher discovers the murdered body of the dog from across the street, Wellington, he decides to investigate the murder. He tries to emulate the system employed by Sherlock Holmes, and upon his teacher Siobhan’s suggestion, he keep a written journal of his investigation.
Haddon used Christopher’s journey to explore the reality of living with a mental disorder. Christopher’s perception of the world is very different to that of a person without this condition. He perceives the world very literally – this means that he sometimes has difficulty understanding the world around him. He is not able to tell lies, for example, and is unable to understand metaphors.
"And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about."His literal perception of the world affects his behaviour. He is unable to process complex emotion, and as result he doesn’t like new people or being touched.
"I rolled back onto the lawn and pressed my forehead to the ground again and made the noise that Father calls groaning. I make this noise when there is too much information coming into my head from the outside world."Christopher processes the world around him by developing order and systems in order to assist him to function. Colours are associated with particular feelings; for example, anything brown is bad and four red cars in a row on the way to school means that he will have a good day. He likes lists because they suggest order, and he enjoys mathematical problems because, his teacher suggests, they always have logical answers. This is Christopher’s biggest problem – he cannot perceive the world as a logical place because he cannot be anything other than literal.
As he investigates Wellington’s death, Christopher makes a significant discovery about his own family that leads him away from that puzzle and onto a bigger journey of self-discovery.
On a more personal note, as someone who works a lot with people with a mental illnesses and disorders, I really appreciated the honest way in which Haddon dealt with this issue. Christopher was not portrayed as 'disabled' as such. He was not painted as some sort of 'idiot' or 'criminal' or 'social misfit' as such. Instead, he seemed an ordinary boy struggling with additional challenges that he faced. Similarly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time also provided insight into the struggles of the families of people with mental disorders. Their difficulties and challenges were sensitively dealt with to reinforce the idea that assisting people with such problems is not an easy task, but it is one that you do your best at out of love.
By employing a unique writing style Haddon avoids stereotypes and sentimentality and provides the reader with an original and honest insight into mental disorder. This in turn compels the reader to contemplate our own perceptions of the social and physical world in which we exist. This book is compassionate, it is real and it is moving.
What kind of read is this?
It is an easy read, but with a unique writing style, unique content and a unique character.
Do I recommend this book?
Yes, to everyone. I wish I had read it sooner than I did.
Do I recommend that you buy this book?
I do recommend that you buy it if you are someone that likes to own books that they read and enjoy. Having said that, it is such a unique book that it isn't one that I would imagine you would re-read very frequently for fear of removing some of its impact. So the library is also a good option.
What is your view on how mental illnesses or disorders are usually portrayed in fiction and why do you think this might be?