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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

photo-4Book Description (Amazon): Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

My Review (Spoilers!–am I the only one who says that in River Song’s voice?):

Executive Summary: amazing

We selected this book for our “literary fiction” category for book club. Basically books that don’t fit into another obvious category. I had read this book before, probably about 10 years ago, and I loved it then, and I was happy to reread it. This book is seriously a must read. And it’s a very quick read too. And there is no way I am going to capture half the essence of this book in my review no matter how hard I try.

Christopher Boone is a 15 year old who lives in England with his father. The story is set in the first person. The story begins when Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog Wellington stabbed with a garden fork (I assume this is British vernacular for a pitchfork and Christopher points out that it is not an eating fork). Christopher is horrified and picks up Wellington, wondering who killed him and why when his owner (Mrs. Shears) comes out shrieking. We learn that Christopher knows every country in the world, their capitals and all of the prime numbers up to 7,057 (all book chapters are numbered with prime numbers). But he doesn’t understand other people’s emotions. (It is never clearly stated in the book but the author later stated in an interview that Christopher has a form of Asberger’s.)

After the introduction, Christopher clearly tells us that his is a murder mystery novel. His teacher, Siobhan (how is that name pronounced?) has encouraged him to write a book that he would like to read. And he likes murder mystery novels. And Sherlock Holmes (me too!) but not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because he believes in things that aren’t real.

So back to the original story of the dog. After Mrs. Shears finds Christopher with the dog, she starts shouting at him, which makes him shut down–cover his ears and close his eyes and curl up and put his face on the ground. The police arrive and don’t understand. And Christopher doesn’t understand metaphors or any other statements that are not direct and obvious. So a bit of a misunderstanding turns into Christopher hitting a police officer and being taken to the police station. He likes the cell–it’s a nearly perfect cube. Eventually his father arrives and Christopher returns home.

Christopher’s mother died two years previously. She went to the hospital, and then died in the hospital due to a heart issue. Christopher assumes that she died of an aneurysm because embolisms only happen to old people and his mother was not old and she was active.

Throughout the book, we find out many details about Christopher–how he cannot tell a lie, how he loves red (has red food coloring so that he can dye ugly colored food red), hates yellow and brown for a variety of detailed reasons, has Good Days when he sees 4 red cars in a row on his way to school (but 4 yellow cars in a row make it a Black Day where he doesn’t talk to anyone). He doesn’t believe in heaven or anything that cannot be proven by science. He doesn’t like strangers but not because of “Stranger Danger” (which is where a strange man offers you a ride because he wants to do sex with you) but because he doesn’t like people who he has never met before, and how he hates France (who doesn’t lol).

Christopher decides that because it was a Good Day, he was going to investigate who killed Wellington despite his father’s previous protests. But his father isn’t home from work yet so Christopher goes to tell Mrs. Shears that he didn’t kill Wellington but he wants to find out who did. She tells him goodbye and closes the door in her face. He didn’t take the hint so he went around to her shed and found the garden fork in there (which either means it’s hers or a Red Herring). She finds him and tells him to go home before she calls the police so he goes home and says hello to his dad and his pet rat, Toby.

The following day he proceeds in the neighborhood despite not usually talking to strangers to do detective work. First he creates a map of his street and then proceeds on to talk to Mr. Thompson (no info), the black lady (unnamed) who tells him that perhaps he should ask his dad about who might want to make Mrs. Shears sad (but he can’t because his dad doesn’t want him doing detective work), Mr. Wise (who made a joke and laughed at him causing Christopher to walk off because he hates people laughing at him, and then Mrs. Alexander, an old lady who had a dog. He talked to her for a while and she invited him to tea. But since Christopher doesn’t go into other people’s homes, she went to bring him out some Orange Squash and some biscuits. When she didn’t return soon enough, Christopher left because he thought she was calling the police.

Christopher formulates a Chain of Reasoning to determine who would want to kill Wellington, and he determines it was probably Mr. Shears because he left her two years ago and never came back. Mrs. Shears would come over to Christopher’s house sometimes after Mr. Shears left and Christopher’s mom had died and tidy up. Christopher assumes that if Mr. Shears must dislike Mrs. Shears enough to get a divorce, he must dislike her enough to kill her dog. But no one told him why they got a divorce in the first place so he decides to find out.

Christopher goes to a special school with “stupid kids” (he’s not supposed to call them that. (They have learning difficulties or special needs). Christopher disagrees with the term learning difficulties because he says everyone has something that is difficult for them to learn or a special need like people who use artificial sweetener to prevent them from getting fat. Christopher is going to take his A-level maths class and get an A grade because he is not stupid. (A-levels are apparently used for determining competency in subjects for college. Something like an AP test I guess.) After he takes the A-level maths, he’s going to take A-level further maths and A-level physics and then go to university for a degree in some combination of maths and physics.

On his way home, Christopher thinks about how he sometimes thought his parents would get divorced because of him. They argued a lot, and his mother always got irritated with him. When he arrives home, his father is waiting for him. Mrs. Shears has called him. Christopher tells his father that he believes that Mr. Shears has killed Wellington. His father gets angry and makes Christopher promise to stop his “ridiculous game”.

It isn’t until the end of the week that he had a Super Good Day so he decides that he will go go to the shop at the end of the road to buy licorice laces and a Milky Bar and Mrs. Alexander is there. So he talks to her a bit without specifically doing any detective work. And Christopher’s father did not specifically tell him that he could not ask about Mr. Shears (he was just not allowed to mention Mr. Shears in their house, ask Mrs. Shears or anyone about who killed the bloody dog, not to go trespassing in other people’s gardens, and to stop this bloody detective game). So Christopher decides to ask Mrs. Alexander if she knows about Mr. Shears. She tells him that his father is probably right to tell him to not investigate Mr. Shears and that he probably knows why his father doesn’t like Mr. Shears very much. He gets out of Mrs. Anderson that his mother and Mr. Shears were “doing sex”, and he promises not to tell his father about the conversation.

The next day at school, Siobhan proofreads Christopher’s book and asks him whether he was upset to find out that his mother had had an affair with Mr. Shears but he doesn’t feel sad because his mother is dead and Mr. Shears isn’t around anymore so it doesn’t matter. That evening, his father finds his book and is very angry with Christopher. The other thing that Christopher wasn’t supposed to go sticking his nose in other people’s business. His father shouts at him and grabs his arm. He takes Christopher’s book and throws it in the trash. The next day they went to the Twycross Zoo as his father is trying to make up for things.

When he gets home from school on Monday, Christopher goes to get the book from the trash, but it’s no longer there. So he decides that his father has hidden it and he eventually finds the book in a box in his father’s closet, but he hears his father pulling up so he leaves the book for later. As he is putting the book back in the box, he sees a letter in the box that is addressed to him and the writing suggested it was written by 3 people–Siobhan, Mr. Loxely (a former teacher at his school), or his mother. He takes the letter with him and reads it later in his room. It was written by his mother, and it was postmarked 18 months after she died.

Six days later, he returns to the closet, and finds 43 letters addressed to him from his mother. He reads one after another until he realized that his mother wasn’t dead. She and Mr. Shears (Roger) had run off together to London, and Christopher’s father had lied to him. By the time Christopher’s father has returned, he has shut down fully and his father realizes what has happened.  After a hot bath, since he wants to come clean to Christopher, his father also admits that he was the one who killed Wellington because Mrs. Shears loved the dog more than she loved them. Christopher panics. He waits until his father falls asleep and then takes Toby, his Swiss Army knife, and his snacks and goes outside and hides until morning.

In the morning, he has to make a decision on what to do. After his process of elimination, he decides that because he now knows his mother’s address, he will go live with her. He takes his father’s ATM card from the house and proceeds to find his way to the train station. Through many unusual interactions, Christopher (and Toby) eventually find their way to his mother’s flat. His father is soon behind them, but Christopher refuses to go back with him because he is a murderer.

Christopher’s behavior is too much for Roger (who really does seem like a mega jerk) so eventually Christopher and his mother eventually move back to Swindon into their house, but not so that Christopher can take his A-level maths because his mother has already rescheduled them for next year. Christopher’s dad goes to live with his friend for a while and Christopher and his mom live in the house. He returns to his school and is able to get his A-level maths rescheduled and even though he is tired and upset, he takes them. Eventually Christopher and his mother move to a new place (what I presume to be a room in a house) and it isn’t working out very well because they had to share a bathroom. And then Toby died, but he was 2 years 7 months which is very old for a rat so it wasn’t that sad. But his mother wouldn’t let him get another one because of where they were living.

Christopher’s father continues to try to spend time with him, which doesn’t go very well at first. But then in a grand showing of peacemaking, Christopher’s father shows up with a two month old golden retriever. The dog will stay at his house and Christopher can come visit. And then Christopher got the results from his A-level maths and he got an A grade. And it made him happy. (That’s a big deal). Christopher named the dog Sandy and began to split time with both of his parents. And he planned to take his further A-level maths and get a First Class Honors degree (but it doesn’t have to be from a university in London) and he will become a scientist because he was brave and wrote a book and solved the mystery of who killed Wellington.

Verdict: 4.5 stars. Read this book. Trust me.

This book is just really great. It’s happy. It’s sad. It’s every different emotion you can imagine. Interspersed within the main story are lots of great little tidbits–the milky way, how to calculate prime numbers, astronauts, Ask Marilyn’s Monty Hall Problem, formulas for animal populations, constellations, etc. that really make the book so entertaining to read (and so realistic that a child wrote it). It’s a great peek into a world which most of us will never experience, and yet at the same time a look at how the rest of us react to that world. I actually bought a copy of this book today (because I borrowed it electronically from the library) so that I can share it with others.

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Filed under 4.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review, Books