During my spring semester I began doing research on how libraries serve individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This led me in a number of directions, including building my own web-based resource for librarians hoping to better serve these patrons and writing a research paper on the logistics of hiring high-functioning ASD individuals in the library. Along with these projects I began developing an idea for an autism collection. Split evenly between nonfiction, fiction and juvenile books, a quality autism collection would both help those with ASD cope with the challenges they face as well as help librarians and other patrons better understand and interact with these individuals. One of the most intriguing examples of fiction I found for the collection was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I’ve finally gotten around to reading myself. And it was amazing.
Fair warning: Mark Haddon tells Christopher’s story from Christopher’s perspective. If you’re not a fan of first-person writing, suck it up. This book is worth the read, even if first-person normally throws you for a loop. The way Christopher thinks about the world around him makes his story even more intriguing, and informative if you are trying to better understand individuals with ASD. Christopher’s language has a hint of stream-of-consciousness, but without being the dense, difficult-to-read stereotype that famously made readers of Ulysses by James Joyce groan. Instead, Christopher’s story is easy to read and engrossing. Many of his observations feel like tangents, and yet they tend to tie back into the overarching story. This creative approach makes it perhaps one of the best books I’ve read all year.
Secondly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a whodunit, a murder mystery that pits a young autistic boy against the individual that ran his neighbor’s dog through with a garden fork. This is the driving force behind Christopher, sending him into situations that would have made him withdraw into a catatonic state under normal circumstances. But killing a dog is wrong, as Christopher tells the people he investigates. And beyond finally creating a story from the perspective of an individual with ASD, Haddon has managed to create a cleverly conceptualized whodunit, complete with red herrings and unexpected twists. The perspective also makes it more difficult to puzzle out the culprit, which makes it an even more well-written mystery.
Bottom line: This book is definitely worth reading. It successfully introduces readers to how an autistic might view the world. It also presents a fun, imaginative whodunit. The best parts are Christopher’s descriptions of how he views the world around him. My favorite quote from the whole book is when Christopher describes where he thinks his dead mother is:
“But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burned and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to ash and I couldn’t ask at the crematorium because I didn’t go to the funeral. But the smoke goes out of the chimney and into the air and sometimes I look up into the sky and I think that there are molecules of Mother up there, or in clouds over Africa or the Antarctic, or coming down as rain in the rain forests in Brazil or in snow somewhere.” p. 32
The passage is indicative of Haddon’s style: Simple and yet profound, straightforward and yet with a surprising depth. And I found the passages like these, and the way Christopher thought about and described things, to be beautiful.