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The burden of daily life

It is a black day in the very small world of Christopher Boon, who likes the police and red things but detests France and the colour yellow. One night, the boy finds a neighbour's poodle dead in her garden and is accused of being the one who killed it. Sparked by a desire to clear his name and intrigued by the puzzle, he decides to break the case himself. A book project is due for school and he figures this will make for an excellent murder mystery. Thus, he starts an investigation and writes meticulous notes of his thoughts and observations in a book. The very same book, in fact, that readers are holding in their hands: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

There is a catch, though. Christopher is autistic. He has a brilliant understanding of mathematics and a passion for random scientific fun facts, but even the basic aspects of daily life are too much of a burden for him. His brain lacks certain filters to sort the incoming information, which means he has to rely on arbitrary strategies and patterns to bring some order to his life. But it's difficult to discern the moods of others when you find body language and metaphors just confusing. He therefore takes everything at face value, and is himself recklessly honest: "I do not tell jokes and I do not lie". It is precisely his blunt and neutral observations, however, which make the dry humour of the book.

It was a brilliant decision by the author, Haddon, to write this book entirely from the viewpoint of an autistic child. As Chistopher is writing not only about solving the mystery but also about writing the book itself, the reader gains intimate insight into what it can be like to live with such a condition. And to view the world from such a peculiar angle – be it little details like the numbering of the chapters (all prime numbers), or large problems when you realise how Christopher's focus on details means that he misses the big picture. The simple style of the book can be irritating at times, but it also helps to understand how Christopher's environment reacts towards him. Thus, the book is part mystery novel, part family drama. The end is somewhat disappointing, mainly because some of the characters come off as too flat and the course of events is a bit farfetched. But this shouldn't stop you from reading it – it would be a pity to miss all the good parts. A curious book indeed.

 

Tim Aretz

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