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So moving and so funny
Jun 23, 2004 07:20 AM 4545 Views
(Updated Jun 23, 2004 04:47 PM)



Amongst a host of them, probably the most efficient or shall I say the most salutary asset of “The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time” is its spotless, pure and a sickeningly cute narrator’s voice. Me being me, wouldn’t have cared two hoots to type the whole book here, but in an attempt to just appear saner have typed in two of my favourite-st dialogues:

''I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.''

and, this: ''Our mind is just a complicated machine. And when we look at things.. we're looking at a screen inside our heads... People think there is someone in their head looking at the screen and they think, this is their special human mind which is called a homunculus, but this homunculus is just another picture on screen and when homunculus is on screen (because the person is thinking about it), there is another bit of brain watching the screen . And when the person thinks about this ''another bit of brain'', there's yet another bit watching the screen but the brain doesn't see this happen because people are blind inside their heads when they do the changing from thinking about one thing to thinking about another... Feelings are just pictures on the screen in your head about tomorrow.''

Just a day of reading is all it takes to hear (and not read) Christopher, as he babbles about everything under the sun. But given the 268 pages he’s been assigned to write his first ever “detective” book he’s actually quite triumphant in solving the mystery of the murder of a neighbourhood dog, given that he’s afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome (a mild form of autism) and motherless. The book is his own memoir of how he solves the two mysteries of the dead dog and the “dead” mother and how his own probing judders his own life.

The USP of this book is, as I commented earlier, the untainted, undiluted first-person narration by Christopher. Which must be probably the most challenging portion for Haddon, whose intention of actually aiding his readers have a full-blown view into his narrator’s disassociated mind is a hugely ambitious (and consequently, a triumphant) effort. With Christopher taking the centre-stage and writing his own “secret diary”, the whole book seems to have this whole raw, wet-in-the-ears energy about it with the invasive Asperger’s neither leaving Christopher’s voice nor the reader’s thought for even a second.

Then be it Christopher’s self-absorbed, self-aware and emotionally flat speech (“The idea of a constellation is very silly because it is just stars, and you could join up the dots in any way you wanted..” or ''I didn't reply to Mrs Alexander because she was doing what is called chatting'') or his sheer inability to treat others as people and read their faces (“I kept a piece of paper in my pocket with lots of faces drawn on it and took it out when I didn’t understand what someone was saying… It was really difficult to decide though because people’s faces move very quickly”) or even his esoteric self-stimulatory behaviour (“4 red cars in a day make a Good Day… 4 yellow cars in a day make it a Black day”)—every aspect of a child with Asperger’s flows so unconsciously through the book that the work can well become a chronicle of the cryptic syndrome though its very instinct seems quite departed from this very fact (the name “Asperger’s” finds a mention solely on the blurb). The narration seems so drenched in the character’s soul that there’s not a single encounter where the medical side seems ham-handed and is stuffed into the pages. Its Christopher’s diary and so shall it be till the last sentence.

And Haddon is largely helped by his publishers who bring about Christopher’s photographic memory and his obsession with pictures, patterns, font-plays and mathematics in pages that are adorned in such numerous pictures, mathematical equations and different fonts that I won’t blame anyone who labels this as an amateur work. Unlike some other ostentatious efforts like “Catcher in the Rye” and “A Child Called It” where the child-narrators seem rather too hard-pressed to pose as child-narrators, Haddon’s Christopher can much rival Arundhati Roy’s exquisitely etched out Estha and Rahel for both novelty and honesty. There’s none of the sloppy sentimentality attached to a child with “special needs” for his whole sense of being is so removed from normal, that an expectation for him to suddenly recuperate or see the other side is, frankly speaking, impossible.

And any sympathy that Christopher gains as a narrator (like when a policeman laughs at him or he sits haplessly at an underground station for hours, afraid about the crowd around him or even when the mystery about the murdered dog unveils) is purely unintentional, and simply put, incidental. As a matter of fact, the child himself is so casual about his abnormality that any special conduct of people towards him (read pity) only triggers warning signals. He isn’t an innocuous angelic bubble waiting to be hugged. He hates strangers, he calls others stupid, he patronizes himself, he groans loudly for hours with his head between his hands as he finds himself in a crowd and he carries a Swiss army knife waiting to be stabbed into anyone who touches him. And Haddon makes sure that his vulnerabilities and his reciprocations (however “seemingly” inappropriate) stretches out to the reader.

But it only takes a tiny slip of your perceptive mood to erode the effect of this work as the emotionally flat narrator starts to seem irritatingly repetitive. The moment you begin to judge this work as yet another work of fiction, even Christopher’s matter-of-factly style of expression starts appearing shallow and nit-witted. Sans the Asperger’s syndrome, the book is actually quite devoid of a decent plot and unless you are ready to see the world through a different pair of eyes, don’t expect a bone-jolting experience.

More than the humdrum of Christopher’s surroundings, it’s his perception of world that should be looked for and appreciated. The story per se resembles a played-to-death next-door soap and one might guess the twists and the turns sooner than the unpretentious title suggests, but that shouldn’t be why you read the book. You should read it to step into the shoes of someone who’s so illiterate about the people around him that he can’t tell the difference between a question and a rhetorical, a frown and a deep breath, a snigger and a laugh. A tickling and prickling tragicomedy, “The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time” throbs with so much life that it leaves you all warm and smug. Touché.

PS: Was just wondering if my being in UK, where the book's based, and in the medical profession has to do anything at all with my liking for this work. Err.. Umm.. Maybe you can ignore this post-script.

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The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time - Mark Haddon