“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”: a book review

This novel will be eight years old this year and is still magnificent. I’m only sorry it took me so long to get around to it. Why did no one tell me? This timeless book is an experience; a little peek into the life of someone very different and yet very familiar. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a book that made me say “wow”, and fully agree with it quite regular praise of it being “amazing” and “moving.” This novel is both of these things, and is a superb achievement by author Mark Haddon. 

If it helps to gain perspective of how much this book was enjoyed, I have to use a phrase that I’ve always hated: “I couldn’t put it down.” The reason I dislike this so much is that it seems every customer/reader book review has at least a few people saying this, so it’s never a great gauge of true quality. However, for someone like me, who always takes at least a week to read, I finished this in under 48-hours—something I never do. Really. Never. Because even if a reader loves a book, our lives are filled with distractions: cell phones, work, movies, lunch hour, cleaning, and the inevitable bathroom breaks. But whenever I had an ounce of free time, I was cracking open this book, and in my first sitting I destroyed the first half of Haddon’s novel. It flows so well! Again, the interest really has to be there for someone like me to really commit time in this way to a book, and I read often, so you can imagine how severely I was hooked.

By page 16, once I understood the back-and-forth rhythm of the chapter pattern (one of plot, one of Christopher’s thoughts—repeat), I knew that this was going to be excellent. The voice is brilliant and it’s repetition of certain words (mainly “and”) never really get in the way of the effective, flowing prose. Many, many sentences and paragraphs begin with “And”, but that’s of course just the narrator. Whenever someone talks with the main character Christopher—who has a learning/emotional disorder—their speech patterns and cadences contrast to a much purposed effect. It augments the difference between us and, essentially, people like Christopher. “Normal” humans do a lot of weird things, use strange colloquialisms, and our turns-of-phrases are idiotic or, at best, complicated. These thoughts are highlighted through the narrator’s thoughts.

The world almost seems easier to deal with and simpler through Christopher’s eyes, which are not naïve or stupid eyes, but rather “stripped-down, factual, say what you mean, truth vs. lie” eyes. Here’s the truth and here is why. Here is why religion is silly. Here’s why the world is how it is. Using sound logic and science Christopher simplifies our complicated existence into moments of profundity, clarity, meditation, and common sense. 

A note about broken homes and readers with divorced parents: Wow, people can relate to this in America. In a country where around 60% of marriages end in divorce, the brief but dark moments in the novel of realistic vulgarity and arguing can hit home. Coming from a divorced home myself and knowing friends with the same situations, I imagine that one of three reactions were held by readers: (1) “Man, at least my parent’s divorce wasn’t that bad”; (2) “Man, my parents fought/fight just like this”; (3) “This is all they got? My parents were way more violent than this child’s play.”

This is easily one of the tightest and most captivating books I’ve read in a while; blending perfectly, yes, perfectly, a balance of dialogue, plot, details vs. ambiguity, action, and tangential information which adds depth, not just “fat” to reach a word/page count. While talking about page count, it’s also worth noting that Mark Haddon’s novel is an example of how a book that is barely over 220 pages can feel very complete and kick ass. I shouldn’t have to tell anybody a book is never judged by the quantity of its pages and good things can come in small books.

One of things often over-looked in books I read last year was the construction of deeply satisfying endings by the authors. Not just ones that made sense regarding the loose ends being tied up within the plot, but truly satisfying endings emotionally, thematically, and realistically. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” has this big-time. Those last two chapters, mainly the last long one, is very well don, right down to the last paragraph and last sentence.

How I normally grade films and books is on a 5 star scale.

1= Extremely poor. How was this released/published?

2=Below average. Good elements here, but needs work. Skip it.

3= Average. What I expected.

4=Above average. Something worth going out of your way to experience.

5=This should win awards. Must read before you die. Possibly own.

A 5/5 doesn’t mean a perfect piece, and it doesn’t mean it’s on my personal top ten list. What it really means is that there were no glaring flaws, the story was satisfying and took me on a journey, I enjoyed it nearly cover to cover, it’s likely to sell millions, the characters had depth, and it should probably be nominated for something. “The Curious Incident” is a 5/5. The book was joint winner of the 2004 Boeke Prize, won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year award and sold more than two million copies.

I would give it a 4.5/5 if it had a weak ending or hadn’t won any awards, but the truth is that Mark Haddon took a big fictional leap with creating this story, and of all the books I’ve read, this book stands alone and is truly original.

By the way, Steve Kloves, screenwriter of many of the Harry Potter films, is currently working on a screen adaptation. Can’t wait.

Final Score: 5/5

MH

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