I had hoped not to be so terrible with posting during the last few days, but alas, Thanksgiving festivities kept me from my blog duties. Thankfully a new month is starting tomorrow, which means time will be spent scheduling, goal making, and organizing within the next few days. For now, here is the wrap-up of my November Reading Challenge.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a mystery written by fifteen year old Christopher, who, although not specifically noted in the text, has Asperger’s Syndrome. The events within the pages made it hard to put the novel down, although by the conclusion I was left feeling shortchanged, or perhaps “grasping for a more mysterious ending” is a better way to put it.
I’m not totally convinced that the actual story meets absolute mystery genre standards, even with the overlying plot of Christopher trying to find the dog Wellington’s murderer. What I find more fitting to the “mystery” theme was Christopher himself; his thoughts, problem solving processes, and coping mechanisms. His motives, next moves, and actions were slightly mysterious to me, primarily because my mind does not work in the same way as his. It was logical for him to label the chapter numbers as prime numbers, because that sequence makes the most sense to him. It was okay to include diagrams and math problems within the text, because he could explain events and actions more clearly that way. He did not think twice about traveling alone to his estranged mother’s house in London, because he no longer felt safe with his father. It was comforting to climb onto a luggage shelf in a train because he did not feel safe in the open, busy car. These would not have been logical choices for my own self, but I knew from the beginning this would not be a *I can empathize with the character/narrator because we come from the same walks of life* kind of story. Don’t think of this as a negative; I don’t. Rather, reflect on whether it’s the content of the story that shapes the “chosen” genre, or the focuses, choices, and actions of the character(s) and narrator within the story.
Besides this analysis, there is of course the one related to how Asperger’s is now seen, or our view of it influenced by this text and others like it. Isn’t that what we look for in novels? Relevance to our world, worlds we know little of, and subjects of which we try to better understand? Mark Haddon had thoughts on this, when he became aware of comments made by people with Asperger’s, mainly, they used this book as sort of a communication tool with family and friends to be understood:
Is the lesson to not overlook understanding and dedication to a loved one? It takes time and effort to care for and love any human being, and sometimes it may take a little more for some. Christopher’s father was not flawless, but he was certainly more dedicated and selfless towards his son than Christopher’s mother. Would this have been any different without the albeit assumption-based label of a disorder?
Is the lesson to not create stigmas around labels for individuals’ “weirdness” or “strange behavior?” As was previously mentioned, Mark Haddon never specified Christopher’s diagnosis – critics and analysis did. While it may seem clear to readers who understand Asperger’s or who can identify “abnormal” behavior, putting the label on our narrator takes away from other points of the story: the struggle to be an independent individual, sorting through loss and difficult choices, anger towards parents, trying to define yourself, and sometimes wishing “to look out of a little window in the spacecraft and know there was no one else near me for thousands and thousands of miles.”¹
Overall, this book challenged me (I more time working through the math problems than I did reading) and did a wonderful job of putting me in the mind of the narrator; feeling and thinking as he did. While I am a little underwhelmed by the ending – I was hoping for a more mysterious, fade away ending rather than a solid, clear ending – I would recommend this book to you, readers, for a chance to get out of your head and into someone else’s.
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Books, a division of Random House Inc. New York, 2003)