The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

This is the story of how Christopher, a boy suffering from Asperger's syndrome, sets out to discover who was responsible for the death of his neighbour's dog. Told by Christopher, the book alternates between episodes of narrative describing events as they unfold and sections where he goes off at a bit of a tangent to explain about a subject which happens to have caught his attention, such as what it would be like to be an astronaut.

It certainly seems a very plausible perspective of how you might expect someone suffering from Asperger's to experience the world. Christopher doesn't have empathy with what other people are feeling, and while he isn't without emotions himself - he feels fear, frustration, curiosity and happiness - these all tend to be based on his immediate response to situations. So he is concerned when he loses his pet rat, and tries to find it, but when told that his mother (who he's not seen for a few days as she is in hospital) has died, his reaction is to ask which kind of heart attack she suffered.

Christopher's account of events can be very detailed: he notices lots of things and doesn't discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information. He explains this as a reason why he doesn't like going to unfamiliar places: there is so much to take in and remember. And why he can't understand people wanting to go on holiday and experience different sights, when there are so many interesting things to examine at home.

Christopher also has no natural ability to perceive the pragmatic meaning of what people are saying, and understands things only at a semantic level. So when people make jokes, or use metaphors, he is unable to follow what they mean. Since he reports direct speech, we can sometimes follow the implications of what's going on even if he can't, although the irony is that the things which we realise must be happening, though upsetting to us, probably wouldn't bother him much anyway.

Some of the book is quite moving (although Christopher wouldn't realise this), and you get a sense of how frustrating it must be for the parents of a child like Christopher who has no inclination to display affection at all. Other bits are laugh-out-loud funny, as when Christopher explains why he doesn't like brown or yellow.

A good idea for a book, and effectively told. I hope he doesn't spoil it by doing a sequel.

Completed : 05-Jul-2004

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