Christopher doesn’t mind touching dead things. Christopher doesn’t like being touched. Christopher thinks metaphors are stupid but he understands and adores prime numbers. Often the world is too loud and bright for this fifteen year old boy’s comfort and people he meets are in it extremely confusing. As far as Christopher is concerned, all of life would be better if it were predictable, like a mystery story.
As such, Christopher John Francis Boone takes center stage as narrator and autistic hero of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Recognition of this development disorder has been growing for the last two decades and the Centers for Disease Control believes that roughly one percent of the world’s population is a member of this group (U. S. statistics suggest that number is low). That means at least 74 million people are participating in life right now without the verbal and non-verbal communication skills the rest of us use without effort. Minus the ability to recognize or understand the nuanced feelings of others, these people go through life often aware they don’t quite fit in with “regular people” but unable to bridge the gap between themselves and the rest of the world. The condition becomes a filter they gaze through, seeing somethings clearly but missing part of the world, like someone looking at life through Pinhole Glasses.
Christopher’s perceptions are limited by his disorder and by a lack of information. His mother disappeared awhile ago but his father doesn’t want to talk about it. Mr. Shears’s name can’t be mentioned but Christopher isn’t told why beyond the statement, “That man is evil.” Then someone kills the neighbor’s dog and Christopher has a mystery he cannot ignore. He decides to use the methods of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, to find out what happened to the dog. What results is a lesson in unearthing the odd corners of the human heart.
While Christopher is mystified by the actions and reactions of the people that surround him, his creator, Mark Haddon, is not. Mr. Haddon allows Christopher to tell the story so that the love, frustration and sadness of the non-autistic characters shine through, even though Christopher doesn’t see the clues. Haddon’s skill simultaneously shows us the world Christopher sees with its attendant terrors, triumphs and confusion without condescension or judgment of his hero. Although he may seem impaired by our standards, Christopher views himself as a complete, competent soul who responds reasonably to strange situations. By the end, you may think he is right.
For those of us who know or love anyone on the autism spectrum, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a godsend but it’s so much more than that. Anyone who has ever been mystified by the actions of others or been faced with a situation difficult to handle can empathize with Christopher. It’s also good for anyone who has had to forgive actions they do not understand. In other words, we’ve all lived in Christopher’s world and his story is for all of us.