Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) is remarkable in its ability to get inside the outsider teenager. Fifteen-year-old Christopher has Asperger’s Syndrome. He is a brilliant mathematician but has little comprehension of ordinary emotions. He sees through the stereotypical view of his teacher that his love of maths has anything to do with ‘safety’. Christopher is mystified by language however. He likes things to be ‘real’ and he is afraid of lies. He sees metaphor as lies. Haddon’s telling of Christopher’s story is both eye-opening and haunting for what it tells us about seeing the world from such a different point of view.
At one point in the novel Christopher tells us that his name is a metaphor. Christopher seems to be caught up in a fear that he will have to be someone for someone else. Rather than feeling he has been named in relation to another, his fear is that he has been included in the other and caught up in their desires. According to Mannoni (1987), the psychotic child and the mother often form a single body: ‘The child tries to pour himself into the mould of the other’s desire, from conception, playing a role for the mother on the phantasy plane’ (p. 96).
Christopher speaks in the first person for Mark Haddon, reminding us of the alienation of the subject from himself. Christopher’s perspective allows us seeing things the way he sees them. It is worth noting that Christopher’s world view is very different that is why perception of the feelings he describes gives us great feeling of being inside the book.
The language of the story is very simple; Haddon avoids figurative elements for they are strange to Christopher, who understands everything in very literal meaning. The description of an autistic child often involves humour. Though it is a light humour, for example, when Christopher is highly preoccupied with the presenting an endless stream of facts and details or cannot understand jokes but on no account is Haddon’s humour scoffing. The use of humour exemplifies author’s skilful approach to illustrating the world of those different from majority.
Haddon succeeds in bringing readers into Christopher’s experience as a person with autism in order to understand how he thinks and why he acts as he does. As we accompany him on this unusual journey, we learn to respect Christopher’s stamina and intelligence, admire his creativity and perseverance, and honour his commitment to justice and caring.
Haddon, M. (2003) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. London: David Fickling Books.
Mannoni, M. (1987) The Child, His Illness and the Other. London: Karnac Books.