Solving a mystery, emerging from isolationOur hero introduces himself: “My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.” It’s a rather odd introduction, but Christopher, in his mid-teens, is a rather odd boy. He doesn’t understand jokes or metaphors or facial expressions beyond “sad” and “happy.” He finds people confusing.
He likes mathematics because, unlike life, there is always a straightforward answer. And sometimes it yields wonderful discoveries, as when “you see someone’s name and you give each letter a value from 1 to 26 and you add the numbers up in your head and you find that it makes a prime number, like Jesus Christ (151), or Scooby-Doo (113) or Sherlock Holmes (163) or Doctor Watson (167).”
(For those of us whose school days were long ago, Christopher helpfully explains prime numbers. In fact, he enumerates his chapters by prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and so on.)
Christopher also likes dogs: “You always know what a dog is thinking.” So when he finds the still-warm body of a poodle named Wellington on a neighbor’s lawn he deduces that the dog has been murdered. The book is Christopher’s account of how he solved the crime.
Christopher’s condition is never given a name, but evidently it is autism. The author, Mark Haddon, has worked with autistic people, and in Christopher he has created one of the most extraordinary and convincing characters you will ever encounter in fiction.
Like many such youngsters, Christopher has difficulty understanding emotions or relating to other people. He spends a lot of time keeping the world at bay through obsessive behavior routines.
Christopher also is preternaturally observant. For example, on Wednesday Jan. 15, 1994, he found himself in a field of cows, and noticed 38 things, including the number and colors of the cows and which way they were facing; that there was a village in the distance with 31 visible houses and a church, and on and on. With so much detail assailing Christopher's brain, it is no wonder that it overloads from time to time and crashes like a computer.
But the need to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington draws Christopher out of his isolation and propels him on an adventure in which he must overcome a terrifying betrayal that tests his wits and courage. He emerges a hero.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Vintage Books, 240 pages
by Hal Piper