I think it’s safe to say that after The Wasp Factory, I wanted something a bit more chilled out, maybe something that wouldn’t make me fear humanity and doubt the existence of happiness in the world. So, I turned to my copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, the story of a 15 year old boy, Christopher, who has an unspecified behavioural condition: there are references to his inability to understand jokes or recognise emotions in others, but no diagnosis, as such, is given. When his neighbour’s dog is killed, Christopher launches an investigation to find the murderer, and his mentor Siobhan helps him write a murder mystery story about his experiences. The investigation forces Christopher well out of his comfort zone, as he uncovers secrets that will change his life and help him find courage he didn’t know he had.
I know there are mixed feelings about the authenticity of Christopher’s voice, and Haddon himself states that he is no expert on the kind of behavioural problems Christopher appears to have, but I have to admit that I love this book. I get completely absorbed in Christopher’s story every time, and I love the way the story lets us see the weird, mixed up adult world from his point of view. To be honest I think I personally can quite easily overlook any supposed inaccuracy because I know very little about the autistic spectrum, which means that not only am I extremely unlikely to notice any anomalies, but also it makes it easier for me to see Christopher as an individual with his own peculiarities, rather than someone who has condition a, and should be displaying traits x, y and z.
The character of Siobhan really stood out to me. During the book, Christopher interacts with a lot of adults and those who don’t know him tend to act in a very impatient or confrontational way. Even Christopher’s parents struggle with his condition, and regularly lose their temper with him. Siobhan, however, seems to understand Christopher’s mind in a way others don’t. She diffuses difficult situations rapidly, explains things in a way that he can easily understand, and helps him to learn in a way that is comfortable for him. To me she represents the thousands of people who work with the elderly and disabled every day, displaying endless patience and kindness, for low wages and little recognition. It does make you wonder why parents don’t get the training that Siobhan has had!
I think if you want to read this book, you need to forget anything about autism or learning difficulties or behavioural problems and just enjoy it as a book about a teenage boy with a unique world view and a beautiful story to tell. The emotion will just pull you through, and if you don’t need tissues at any point, you’re completely soulless.