The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Doubleday Canada), 240 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I have never read another novel in which so many sentences began with "and," "but" or "because." You will want to send copies of Mark Haddon's book to all the English teachers who scolded you for run-on sentences. I, too, feel vindicated. As in all good stories, the hero must go on a quest, perform daunting tasks and return triumphant. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time has a hero named Christopher Boone, aged 15 years, 3 months and 2 days, and he has autism.
The plot seems simple. Christopher discovers his neighbour's poodle impaled on a pitchfork and decides to find the killer. Christopher's teacher suggests he write a mystery novel about his pursuit of the killer. His account reads like a stream of consciousness - or rather a stream of logic. Bliss. Those with a fear of math can take comfort in the fact that Christopher provides all the answers.
He speaks in breathless paragraphs or short, staccato bursts. It's easy to adapt to this rhythm, and, like the protagonist, I loathed the banal chit-chat the novel's other characters attempt. Christopher does not like change, he does not like to be touched and he does not like France (this last will surely boost Haddon's sales in the United States). All of which makes his quest all the more difficult.
How can a character devoid of emotion evoke empathy? With language that is eloquent in its logic. At many moments Christopher's application of logic seems profound. Yet when he describes his mother's death, his words lose their Zen-like beauty and sound cold and detached.
As Margaret Atwood once said, context is everything.
Not since Carl Sagan's Contact has there been such pleasurable reading about math and prime numbers. Like a complex math problem, this novel is highly satisfying to work out.
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