Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

To quote The Miami Herald and The Daily Telegraph, "Astonishingly captivating...fierce and ingenious," and "Heart-in-the-mouth stuff, terrifying and moving. Haddon is to be congratulated for imagining a new kind of hero."

The story takes place in Swindon, England, and is written in the voice of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15 year old boy who has extraordinary math and physics skills, and a perfect memory. It never says he is Autistic, just that he has behavioral problems, but that is the idea I get from the descriptions of his preferences and behavior.

So, in the beginning, Christopher discovers that his neighbour's poodle, Wellington, has been murdered with a garden fork in the middle of the night. And Mrs. Shears (the owner) thinks that Christopher did it, because he's a bit different and she found him holding the bloody dog in her yard. So the police come and speak to Christopher but he doesn't understand the questions and when the police officer tries to pull him up off the ground, Christopher hits him, which earns him a "caution," which haunts him for the rest of the book. Christopher decides that he's going to discover who killed Wellington, so he looks at all the likely suspects, and starts talking to various neighbours, even tho he doesn't like talking to strangers. And he decides to write this book, which will be a murder mystery.

In his detecting, an elderly lady neighbour tells Christopher that his mother, who he believes to have been dead for 3 years, never did die, she had an affair with Mr. Shears and they ran away together. But Christopher is not affected by this information because his father told him his mother was dead, and his father wouldn't lie to him, so he believe the affair happened before she died.

When Christopher's father happens upon the book, he discovers that Christopher knows the truth about his mother, and he becomes very upset, hits Christopher, and takes the book away. Christopher ends up finding his book in his father's closet among piles of letters addressed to Christopher. After reading them, he realizes that they're from his mother, and it finally sinks in that Mother is still alive and living in London.

Not long after this, Father tells Christopher that he was the one who killed Wellington. Because after Mother ran away with Mr. Shears, Father didn't know how to tell Christopher what had happened so he told him she'd died and it was just easier to keep on lying. In the meantime, Mrs. Shears became a close friend and would sometimes stay with them, and Father thought that someday she might like to live with them permanently, but she ended up caring more about her dog than she cared about them. So he'd killed the dog. Knowing that his father was a "murderer" and a liar made Christopher very frightened to be near him, so he decided that he couldn't stay there any longer. At first he was going to ask Mrs. Shears if he could stay with her, but she wasn't home and the elderly neighbour wanted him to talk about the situation with his father, so he ended up running away, deciding that he was going to find his mother in London.

The rest of the book more or less details Christopher's difficult and strenuous journey to London and shows how he was able to use the skills and knowledge in his possession to find his way around train stations and London itself. He stayed with Mother and Mr. Shears for a few days, but he and Mother eventually went back to Swindon because things weren't going very well anymore with Mr. Shears. Once home, Christopher is able to take his Maths A level exam, which he has been looking forward to for a long time and didn't think he'd be able to do while he was in London. He gets an A grade on the exam, and Mother gets a little apartment near Father's house. Father makes Christopher promise to work on their relationship by agreeing to spend a certain amount of time with him every day, and in return Father will do things to show Christopher that he can trust him again. Father buys Christopher a dog, which he names Sandy, and life starts to get back to normal for Christopher.

The closing paragraphs are so touching, and I just have to quote them:
"{Talking about his Maths A level grade, and that he's going to take the Further Maths for A level exam next year...} And I'm going to pass it and get an A grade. And in two years' time I am going to take A-level physics and get an A grade. And then, when I've done that, I am going to go to university in another town. And it doesn't have to be in London because I don't like London and there are universities in lots of places and not all of them are in big cities. And I can live in a flat with a garden and a proper toilet. And I can take Sandy and my books and my computer. And then I will get a First Class Honors degree and I will become a scientist. And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything."

Overall story rating: 9/10
Recommendation: 15+ for some language and content

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