Tuesday, February 23, 2010

#11: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I have just learned something: there does not seem to be a character limit on blog post titles. If for no other reason, British author Mark Haddon's novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has been helpful in this regard. (In the spirit of generosity, I will also attest to Haddon's wisdom in neglecting to include a subtitle.)

Fortunately, the virtues of this work extend far beyond its function as a test of software capabilities, as Haddon lends a powerful voice to a mentally disabled boy living in England. At once a mystery novel and a compelling journey into the mind of a very unique child, The Curious Incident is savvy enough to allow the reader wide room for interpretation while still relating an extraordinarily accessible tale (and in the first person, no less). Christopher John Francis Boone is an autistic child living with his father in Swindon. (In an interview, the author preferred to define the protagonist's condition somewhat more ambiguously, stating that "there is a very true sense in which there is something more wrong with the people around Christopher than with him." A bit trite, yes, but not without validity.)

Throughout the course of the story, it becomes obvious that -- surprise, surprise -- not all is as it seems in Christopher-land. And yes, it is as if he inhabits an alternate world, likely one of his own making or, at the very least, bounded by the despotic tics that frequently shut down both his mental and physical faculties. When composed, however, Christopher is something of a math prodigy, and his embrace of sheer logic (however illogical his idea of rationality may be) is as heartwarming as it is frightening. In a rather characteristic example, Christopher postulates on the difference between his memory and the imagination of his peers: "Other people have pictures in their heads, too," he writes. "But they are different because the pictures in my head are all pictures of things which really happened. But other people have pictures in their heads of things which aren't real and didn't happen."

Like many children, Christopher is often funny without intending to be, but his limited mental agility renders his many evaluations of his experiences extremely affecting. It is not what he takes note of, but instead what he does not, that exudes the beauty and sadness of a life lived within the constricting walls of mental illness. And in a strange way, Mark Haddon's seemingly cliched remark about Christopher is spot-on: the childlike gravitation towards (il)logical deduction provides a far more elegant form of commentary than do the voices of those surrounding him. Christopher concludes his journey secure in the knowledge that "[he] can do anything." Readers will have little trouble believing that, but Mark Haddon's challenge with his next novel will be attempting to live up to Christopher's high standards.

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