A writer must see the world through the eyes of his characters in order to succeed in revealing them to his readers. This simple fact underlies the basic humanity of the most alien creatures in science fiction; we can only write about that which we know.
This being so, Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, must spring from Haddon’s own experience with the very alien perspective of his main character, Christopher Boone, a “high-functioning” autistic teenager living with his widower father, who sets out to solve a neighborhood crime.
Unable to make sense of the adult world of emotions, social fictions, outright lies and gentle evasions, Christopher falls back on his love of pattern and logic. He ascribes a magical ability to harm or bless to mundane occurances and sensations: seeing four red cars in a row on the way to school means he will have a very good day. Brown and yellow are bad, so he doesn’t touch yellow things or eat yellow food. When too much data is coming in, Christopher’s only recourse is to moan and block it out.
He starts with the “murder” of Wellington, the standard poodle across the street. Christopher does not understand why he is arrested when he is found covered in blood, cradling the dead pet in his arms. He is baffled by the hostility of the dog’s owner, a former family friend who stepped in to help Christopher and his father cope after the loss of his mother. And he carefully steps around the letter of his father’s injunction to stop playing detective, persisting in his search for the cause of Wellington’s death.His experience of the world is chaotic, overwhelming, so he tries to impose order on it in any way he can. Taking a leaf from a favorite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, the teen resolves to approach everything logically, systematically using his own eidetic memory and keen observational skills to discern patterns in the quicksand-shifting adult world.
The boy’s desire to solve this mystery leads him to step out of his comfortable childhood life, and make a journey as daunting to Christopher as any African explorer’s. What he discovers during his sleuthing is a surprise to all in the story (including Christopher himself), and also to the reader.
There is no doubt that Curious Incident is a well-written mystery. Its brilliance, though, lies in the way Haddon has exposed us to the truly alien in our midst. The novel deserves every bit of the praise and promotion it has garnered.