Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them"
There are two possible reactions to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time : people either love it, or people hate the fact that other people love it. Mark Haddon's debut novel has been compared by many to Catcher in the Rye, and both books are similar in at least this respect. Additionally, both Catcher in the Rye and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time do not dwell on emotions. But I believe the comparison ends there, for the latter has a genuine reason for being emotionally indifferent. The story is narrated in first person by Christopher, who has an unusual thought process. There is clearly a psychological condition he suffers from, and apparently the psychological condition was named in the cover of the initial versions of the book, but the later versions do not specify it. The crux is that Christopher lacks emotional intelligence ("I find people confusing"), but makes up for it with his photographic memory ("I see everything") and his mathematical and analytical abilities. Christopher hates most people  (“All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I'm not meant to call them stupid, even though this is what they are”), but he loves dogs (“I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk”). He hates novels, but loves detective fiction of the Sherlock Holmes kind. He hates metaphors ("metaphors are lies"), but is willing to suffer similes and even use a few of them. Christopher equates his own mind to a computer. And like a computer, he behaves unpredictably when he finds himself facing the unfamiliar or the disorderly.

When he finds that his neighbor's dog is dead and that the accusation of the murder falls on him, Christopher takes it upon himself to do some "detecting" and find the murderer. In what follows, we learn about the emotional turbulence of people around him, and we develop a special attachment to Christopher. The narrative technique is unusual, and things are not described as how a normal person sees them. For instance, instead of describing people's faces, Christopher describes the kind of shoes and socks they are wearing (for he does not look them in the eye). At times, he just doodles out what he wishes to describe with a "it looked like this". There are numerous digressions with puzzles, mathematical calculations, maps, and listicles. Some readers would find the meandering narrative to be novel and attractive, whereas others would dismiss it as a distracting gimmick.

The general accusations against Mark Haddon are two-fold : that the plot does not have much apart from the gimmicky writing and that he portrays a mental condition inaccurately. I did not feel either of these to be a major turn-off. The narrative technique held me till the end, and I am not going to take a fictional depiction as a model to judge people with special abilities. Personally, I was more interested in the character arc of Christopher's flawed parents. Probably Haddon's larger point is that the people considered to be normal by societal standards are not in complete emotional control too. Of course, I felt it strange that except for the parents and an intriguing teacher we never get to meet in present tense, all other characters were glossed over, some of them becoming just caricatures. However in my personal opinion the book is engaging and short enough to read quickly, and one can ignore such minor flaws. That puts me among the first group of people who love The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And I love this simplified explanation of love from the book :
"loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth"
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