I hadn’t heard about “The Curious Incident” until a colleague told me about it and requested I order a set for her senior English class. I try and read all the major novels and short stories taught by the teachers in my department, so I took a copy home to read over this term break.
“The Curious Incident” was an inspiring read but also one that I was happy to reach the end of – both of these reactions on my part are a credit to Mark Haddon’s story-telling and writing style.
The story is told by the main character, Christopher Boone, “a fifteen year old boy from Swindon with Asperger’s Syndrome who loves maths and his pet rat Toby” who also hates yellow and brown, being touched and people telling lies. We enter Christopher’s story on a night when he discovers his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, impaled with a fork in the backyard. Christopher sets out to solve the mystery of the dog’s murder despite admonitions from his father to cease and desist.
Haddon creates a brilliant narrative voice – the voice of a savant who awes readers with his observational skills and mathematical prowess; but also the voice of a boy who sounds younger than a teenager – a voice that speaks as many of my past eight year old students wrote, stringing series of sentences together starting with “And then” or “So then”. It works.
It works so well that, while I was admiring of the style, I also couldn’t wait to break free from Christopher’s thought processes. Surely Haddon intends to create this feeling in his readers – the feeling that you are trapped in Christopher’s mind with him with all his pedantic obsessions and insistence on black and white reasoning. I found myself relating with his frustrated parents, imagining how difficult it must be for them, though they are certainly portrayed as flawed to say the least. It felt good to be released from this mind to think my own thoughts again, as mundane as they can be as well in comparison to some of the richness found in Christopher’s scientific meanderings. As I say, it works. Of course, I also had that sense that, although I finish the book and move on with my life, Christopher and others like him, carry on.
It’s turned out to be a good recommendation and hopefully will be an excellent text for students with plenty to talk and write about. I look forward to their responses to it next term.
Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand and the author of Redeeming Brother Murrihy: The River to Hiruharama and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s).