BOOK CLUB: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

744c3-the_curious_incidentAutism: It’s not like you think.

This is one of my favorite autism slogans, because it’s a clever play on words.

On one level, it’s simply saying that those of us outside the autism world probably don’t have a clear picture of what autism really is, or what it’s like to live with. On another level, the slogan specifically identifies one of the central traits of autism: An autistic person’s brain is wired differently than the rest of the world’s. Their thought processes follow different patterns and pathways than the rest of us.

My oldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. This was one of the main factors that influenced me to choose Mark Haddon’s award-winning 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as my November book club selection: I wanted to see if it would help me understand my son better.** 

I must say, the similarities between by son and Curious Incident’s protagonist, 15-year-old Christopher Boone, were eerie. The constant anxiety in navigating the social and physical world. The aversions to certain foods, smells, colors, and to physical touch. The intense preoccupation with narrow subjects. The lack of appropriate emotional reciprocity. The impaired ability to process facial expressions of others. The need to stick to inflexible routines and other forms of rigidity. The difficulties with theory of mind (like the pencil hidden inside the roll of candy). The ritualistic movements or utterances, known as stereotypies. The inability to process certain forms of humor or metaphor.

So on one hand, the book comforted and affirmed me as a caretaker of someone with autism. I often feel this way when I see a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of Aspies (and those who love them) in the media, such as in the movies Adam or Temple Grandin, or in the TV show Parenthood. (However, don’t even get me started on Glee.)

But on the other hand, Curious Incident was way too dark for me. On the dust-jacket, several famous authors blurbed about how funny the book is. However I failed to see the humor in it. And I suppose the ending of the book was intended to express hope about Christopher’s future, but I didn’t feel hopeful. Perhaps I’m just too close to the situation?

Have any of you read Curious Incident? I would be really curious (I know, interesting word choice) to know what someone outside the autism community thought of it. I don’t know if I would have been able to finish it if I wasn’t so committed to my son. I felt reading the book was kind of like watching a train wreck: almost impossible to turn away, but brutal to observe. Was it revealing or interesting to you, or just too weird? How did you respond emotionally to it? Did you find the ending hopeful?

I’ll leave you with this fun fact:

According to Wikipedia, the book’s title “is a quotation of a remark made by the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s 1892 short story “Silver Blaze“. Those of you who read the book will understand the significance of this.

**The autism world quickly embraced Curious Incident when it was first published. However Haddon never explicitly states that Christopher actually has Asperger’s; it was just assumed by those familiar with it. Haddon himself became increasingly uncomfortable with the role many desired him to fulfill: that of a voice or advocate for those with autism. He has subsequently stated he is not an expert on autism, and refuses for the most part to speak to the topic.

5 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

  1. Stephanie, I read “Curious” in seminary. I had a choice between it and, interestingly, “Gilead”. I got a degree in Biblical Counseling, and we read it for insight into what it might be like to have autism/ ausberger's. From what I understand, Haddon worked with kids with autism and augsberger's, thus the eerie”ness” of the similarities. It was one of my favorite books I read in seminary. Maybe because it was not academic in nature, but a realistic depiction of what life is like to be autistic or live with an autistic child. There's nothing funny about it. Thank you for your summary and confirmation about the reality of the book.

    David Jones

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  2. I did read this book, but my memory is useless – I don't even remember the ending enough to comment (how sad is that?). But I can suggest another that I just read: Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin. I can't speak to its accuracy, but if it's even a little bit accurate, I appreciate the insight I gained by reading it. Are you familiar with it, Steph?

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  3. Tracy, No worries on “Curious Incident”…when you read as much as you do, most books start to run together! 🙂 I've heard “ABT” mentioned in autism circles (very positively)…with your recommendation it goes on my official “to read” list! 🙂

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