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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Curiousincidentofdoginnighttime.jpg
Author Mark Haddon
Country United Kingdom
Language English and 36 others
Genre Mystery novel
Publisher Jonathan Cape (UK)
Doubleday (US)
Anchor Canada (Canada)
Publication date
May 2003
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)
Pages 274
ISBN 0-09-945025-9
OCLC 59267481

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon. Its title refers to an observation by the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 short story "The Adventure of Silver Blaze". Haddon and The Curious Incident won the Whitbread Book Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Unusually, it was published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children.

The novel is narrated in the first-person perspective by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties" living in Swindon, Wiltshire. Although Christopher's condition is not stated, the book's blurb refers to Asperger syndrome, high-functioning autism, or savant syndrome. In July 2009, Haddon wrote on his blog that "Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger's... if anything it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. The book is not specifically about any specific disorder," and that he, Haddon, is not an expert on autism spectrum disorder or Asperger syndrome.

The book uses prime numbers to number the chapters, rather than the conventional successive numbers. Originally written in English, it has been translated into 36 additional languages.

Plot

Christopher John Francis Boone is a fifteen-year-old boy who is implied to be on the autism spectrum, who lives with his father, Ed. He explains in his narration that his mother, Judy, died two years ago. The boy discovers the dead body of the neighbour's dog, Wellington, speared by a garden fork. Mrs. Shears, the dog's owner, calls the police, and Christopher comes under suspicion. When a policeman touches him, Christopher is uncomfortable with being touched and hits the policeman. He is arrested, then released with a police caution. He decides to investigate the dog's death, despite his father's orders to stay out of other people's business. He is severely limited by his fears and difficulties when interpreting the world around him. Throughout his adventures, Christopher records his experiences in a book, which he calls a "murder mystery novel". During his investigation, Christopher meets people whom he has never before encountered, even though they live on the same street, including the elderly Mrs. Alexander, who informs Christopher that his mother had an affair with Mr. Shears and had been with him for a long time.

Ed discovers the book and confiscates it after a brief argument with the boy. While searching for the confiscated book, Christopher uncovers a trove of letters which his mother wrote to him, dated after her supposed death, which his father has also hidden. He is so shocked by his father lying about his mother's death that he is unable to move, curls up on the bed, vomits and groans for several hours until his father returns home. Ed realizes that Christopher has read the letters and cleans him up. He then confesses that he had indeed lied about Judy's death; he also admits that he was the one who had killed Wellington, stating that it was a mistake resulting from his anger after a heated argument with Mrs. Shears. Christopher, having lost all trust in his father and convinced that his father might try to kill him, decides to run away to live with his mother. He remembers his mother's address from the letters and embarks on an adventurous trip to London, where his mother lives with Mr. Shears.

After a long and event-filled journey, evading policemen and feeling ill from the overwhelmingly large amount of information and stimuli from the trains and crowds around him, he finally finds his way to the home of his mother and Mr. Shears, and waits outside until they arrive. Judy is delighted that Christopher has come to her; she is upset that Ed told Christopher that she was dead. Mr. Shears does not want Christopher living with them, and never did. Very soon after arriving, Christopher wants to return to Swindon in order to take his mathematics A-level. His mother leaves Mr. Shears, their relationship having broken down because of the rejection of Christopher by Mr. Shears. Judy then moves into a rented room in Swindon. After an argument with Ed, she agrees to let him meet Christopher for daily brief visits. Christopher remains terrified of his father and makes repeated attempts to prevent him from talking. He hopes Ed will be imprisoned for killing Wellington, although his mother explains that for this to happen, Mrs. Shears would have to press charges.

The story ends with Ed getting Christopher a Golden Retriever puppy, who Christopher gets to name, and promising that he will rebuild trust with Christopher slowly, "no matter how long it takes". Christopher asserts that he will take further A-level exams and attend university. He completes his mathematics A-level with top grades despite having eaten and slept very little. Earlier in the story he talks about wanting to become an astronaut, but at the end he declares that his goal is to become a scientist. The book ends with Christopher optimistic about his future, having solved the mystery of the murdered dog, gone to London on his own, found his mother, written a book about his adventures, and achieved an A in his A-level maths exam.

Characters

Themes

Social disability

In a June 2003 interview with NPR's Terry Gross on her program Fresh Air, Haddon said about Christopher:

If he were diagnosed, he would be diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of autism. I suppose you'd call it high-function autism, in that he can function on, you know, a day-to-day basis, in a kind of rudimentary way. But he has a serious difficulty with life in that he really doesn't empathize with other human beings. He can't read their faces. He can't put himself in their shoes. And he can't understand anything more than the literal meaning of whatever's said to him, although I'm very careful in the book not to actually use the word 'Asperger's' or 'autism.' ... Because I don't want him to be labelled, and because, as with most people who have a disability, I don't think it's necessarily the most important thing about him ... And as a good friend of mine said after reading the book, a friend who is himself a mathematician, it's not a novel about a boy who has Asperger's syndrome; it's a novel about a young mathematician who has some strange behavioural problems. And I think that's right. ...

I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger's syndrome. I gave him kind of 9 or 10 rules that he would live his life by, and then I didn't read any more about Asperger's because I think there is no typical person who has Asperger's syndrome, and they're as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society. And the important thing is that I did a lot of imagining, that I did a lot of putting myself into his shoes in trying to make him come alive as a human being rather than getting him right, whatever that might mean.

Haddon states on his website that, although he had read "a handful of newspaper and magazine articles about, or by, people with Asperger's and autism" in preparation for writing the book, he knows "very little" about Asperger's syndrome and that Christopher Boone is inspired by two different people. According to Haddon, none of these people can be labelled as having a disability. Haddon added that he "slightly regret[s]" that the term Asperger's syndrome appeared on the cover of his novel. In 2010, in an interview with The Independent, he was described as "now thoroughly irritated that the word Asperger's appeared on subsequent editions of the novel, because now everyone imagines that he is an expert and he keeps getting phone calls asking him to appear at lectures."

In a critical essay on the novel, Vivienne Muller quotes some praise by experts on disability theory: "In its presentation of Christopher's everyday experiences of the society in which he lives, the narrative offers a rich canvas of experiences for an ethnographic study of this particular cognitive condition, and one which places a positive spin on the syndrome. The reader in this instance acts as ethnographer, invited to see what Mark Osteen claims is a 'quality in autistic lives that is valuable in and of itself'. Along similar lines, [Alex] McClimens writes that Haddon's novel is 'an ethnographic delight' and that 'Haddon's achievement is to have written a novel that turns on the central character's difference without making that difference a stigmatising characteristic'." Muller adds that the novel "works with a strong sense of the disabled speaking subject, drawing readers into Christopher's cognitive / corporeal space through an incremental layering of his perspectives and reactions ... The narrative also bristles with diagrams, maps, drawings, stories, texts that inform Christopher's lexicon for mapping meaning in a world of bewildering signs and sounds." She also admires such elements as "the digressive stream-of-connectedness-and-disconnectedness way in which Christopher writes and thinks; the obsessive focus on minutiae; his musings about why animals behave the way they do; his quasi philosophizing on death and life and the afterlife; his ambition to be an astronaut ..."

In a survey of children's books which "teach about emotional life," Laura Jana wrote, "On the one hand, this is a story of how an undeniably quirky teenage boy clings to order, deals with a family crisis, and tries to make sense of the world as he sees it. But it also provides profound insight into a disorder – autism – that leaves those who have it struggling to perceive even the most basic of human emotions. In so doing, The Curious Incident leaves its readers with a greater appreciation of their own ability to feel, express, and interpret emotions. This mainstream literary success made its way to the top of The New York Times bestseller list for fiction at the same time it was being touted by experts in Asperger's syndrome and autism-spectrum disorder as an unrivaled fictional depiction of the inner workings of an autistic teenage boy."

Metaphor

Christopher often comments on his inability to appreciate some metaphors. He gives as an example a quote that he found in "a proper novel": "I am veined with iron, with silver, and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist which those clench who do not depend on stimulus." Haddon told Terry Gross, "Funnily enough, it's actually a quote from Virginia Woolf. It's Virginia Woolf on an off day, in the middle, I think, of The Waves. An author whom I love actually, but who sometimes got a little too carried away."

Awards

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. Haddon also was one of the winners of the 2004 Alex Awards, which "honor the 10 top adult books with appeal for adolescents."

As well as winning the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Haddon earned the Book Trust teenage fiction award. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was also long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and "many observers were surprised that it did not advance to the shortlist." John Carey, chairman of the Booker panel of judges, told The Guardian, "We have several clashes of opinion among the judges but I found Haddon's book about a boy with Asperger's syndrome breathtaking."

Critical reaction

A survey in Great Britain, conducted by the BBC's literacy campaign for World Book Day, found Curious Incident to be among "the top five happy endings, as voted on by readers" in novels (the others were Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre and Rebecca, the last of which Curious outranked).

School Library Journal praised it as a "rich and poignant novel." The San Jose Mercury News said, "Haddon does something audacious here, and he does it superbly. He shows us the way consciousness orders the world, even when the world doesn't want to be ordered," adding that "the great achievement of this novel is that it transcends its obvious cleverness. It's more than an exercise in narrative ingenuity. Filled with humor and pain, it verges on profundity in its examination of those things—customs, habits, language, symbols, daily routines, etc.—that simultaneously unite and separate human beings." A reviewer for The Christian Century described it as "an absorbing, plausible book": "The reader becomes absorbed not only in the mystery of a murdered dog and a missing mom, but also in the mysterious world of an autistic child."

A reviewer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that the story is "a touching evolution, one that Haddon scripts with tenderness and care... a unique window into the mind of a boy who thinks a little differently, but like many kids his age, doesn't quite know how to feel." Professor Roger Soder called it "visceral" and a "delightful story," declaring, "All of us in our Spokane Book Club are special education professionals and so have considerable experience with kids with this disability, and we found the story believable."

In 2019, the book was ranked 19th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.

Stage

A stage adaptation, by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, premiered at the National Theatre on 2 August 2012. It starred Luke Treadaway as Christopher, Nicola Walker as his mother Judy, Paul Ritter as his father Ed, Una Stubbs as Mrs Alexander and Niamh Cusack as Siobhan. The production, which ran until late October 2012, was broadcast live to cinemas worldwide on 6 September 2012 through the National Theatre Live programme.

The show transferred to the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, from March 2013. On 19 December 2013, during a performance of The Curious Incident at the Apollo, parts of the ceiling fell down injuring around 80 of the over 700 patrons inside. The production re-opened at the Gielgud Theatre on 24 June 2014. The new West End cast was led by Graham Butler as Christopher Boone, with Sarah Woodward as Siobhan, Nicolas Tennant as Ed, Emily Joyce as Judy, Gay Soper as Mrs Alexander, Vicky Willing as Mrs Shears and Daniel Casey as Mr Shears. In 2015 the cast was Sion Daniel Young as Christopher Boone, with Rebecca Lacey as Siobhan, Nicolas Tennant as Ed, Mary Stockley as Judy, Jacqueline Clarke as Mrs Alexander, Indra Ové as Mrs Shears, Stephen Beckett as Roger Shears, Matthew Trevannion as Mr Thompson, Pearl Mackie as No. 40/Punk Girl, Sean McKenzie as Reverend Peters and Kaffe Keating plays alternate Christopher. They were joined by Mark Rawlings, Penelope McGhie, Naomi Said and Simon Victor.

An adaptation and translation into Spanish by María Renée Prudencio played at the Teatro de los Insurgentes in Mexico City in June 2014. The character of Christopher was played by Luis Gerardo Méndez and by Alfonso Dosal on alternate days. An Israeli adaptation (translation into Hebrew by Daniel Efrat) has been staged at the Beit Lessin Theater in Tel Aviv since March 2014, starring Nadav Netz as Christopher. Netz won the Best Actor category at the 2015 Israeli Theater Awards for the role.

An adaptation and translation into French by Dominique Hollier premiered at the Théâtre de la Tempête in Paris, direction by Philippe Adrien, running from September 11 through 18 October 2015. It also ran at Théâtre Le Moderne, in Liege, Belgium, direction by Daniel Henry-Smith, from 28 April through 13 May 2017.

An adaptation and translation into Danish by Christian Bundegaard premiered at the Odense Teater, September 2019. It starred Kristoffer Helmuth as Christopher.

Film

The film rights for the novel were optioned by Brad Grey and Brad Pitt for Warner Brothers. In 2011 Steve Kloves was attached to write and direct the project, but as of 2021 it has not yet been produced.

A Bengali-English adaptation of the novel has been filmed by Sudipto Roy called Kia and Cosmos. The gender roles of the characters are reversed, and it centers around the killing of a cat called Cosmos.

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