Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Plastic Forks and the Colour Yellow: My Review of MArk Haddon's "The Incident of the Dog in the Night time"

Because time is not like space. And when you put something down somewhere, like a protractor or a biscuit, you can have a map in your head to tell you where you have left it, but even if you don’t have a map it will still be there because a map is a representation of things that actually exist so you can find the protractor or the biscuit again. And a timetable is a map of time, except that if you don’t have a timetable time is not there like the landing and the garden and the route to school. Because time is only the relationship between the way different things change, like the earth going round the sun and atoms vibrating and clocks ticking and day and night and waking up and going to sleep, and it is like west or nor-nor-east, which won’t exist when the earth stops existing and falls into the sun because it is only the relationship between the North Pole and the South Pole and everywhere else, like Mogadishu and Sunderland and Canberra.
The Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon pp 199

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing.

Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.

         This is the story of a boy who has high functioning autism, knows it, but his story is nonetheless a mish-mash of interesting observations  of his own condition and the inability to relate to others because of and in spite of his knowledge of his condition. He sees the world in an interesting way – a highly speculative way, in a manner that befits someone much older. His observations are made with a type of stark realism and logic that pulls together a quilt of nakedness that makes the Reader really examine the strangeness of our own cultural realities.

          This boy is, however, just a boy. He sees things as a child – with the limitations of any child. There are things he obviously does not understand yet – people have hidden things from him for his own protection – like his Father and Mother, who have both hidden tings from him to ensure his happiness – or quite possibly, their own. And yet, there is a strange camaraderie between the boy and his parents – even though he offers no real emotion on his part, instead he speaks in terms of “feeling safe” with one, or “fearing” the other.

The boy teeters on a thin string of panic – where one of a million things can alter the entire course of the day for him. For example, seeing red cars in a row will be a good day, but yellow cars make it a bad day. Haddon reaches into the mind of this boy and extracts a comparison to our own lives – all the unconscious things we think and are not aware of thinking, that influence us. All the truths we won’t admit to ourselves – like death and decomposition. The book works the way it does because the voice is of a child who is frank about the world he sees. Even his rage his confusion – his inexplicable actions, like hiding in a luggage rack from a police officer, all bear a striking honesty about humanity in general, even if we have a hard time admitting it.

It is those passages – the ones that forced me to really think of things I hid from myself on a daily basis, that really made this book for me. The discussion he has with himself over the decomposition of his mother’s body because she is dead, and what that meant in a logical and scientific manner of speaking was so alarmingly honest that I had to go back and reread it when I was done. It made me wonder about how we got ourselves to this point.

I won’t lie: it was sometimes a hard book to read. There were passages that were detached from the rest, seeming to float ambiguously between chapters of actions, but when you got to the end you realized that it was a flowing story in the mind of someone who sees and experiences the world in a vastly different way. And because of that, upon rereading some of it – I saw the light in it and the benefit in reading it – and I enjoyed it.

         Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking – The Incident of the Dog in the Night Time was a great read and an excellently well thought out book – even if sometimes frustrating.

Up next for Review: Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter by A.E. Moorat

Read if you Liked:

  • The Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 


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