I’d heard a lot of good things about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so when I saw it at a used-book sale for our local library (along with Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual; review), I snapped it up. Told from the point of view of Christopher Boone, an autistic boy in Swindon, England,* it opens with Christopher discovering that a neighborhood dog has been killed, and then—as he is a great admirer of Sherlock Holmes—his attempts to uncover the killer.
Interestingly, Haddon said in a Powell’s interview that he actually didn’t set off with the character in mind:
Dave: Where did you find the original impulse to write this novel? I know that it wasn't a matter of you thinking you'd write a book about an autistic boy, as some might presume.
Mark Haddon: No, very deliberately not. And I think if I had done that I'd have run the risk of producing a very stolid, earnest, and over-worthy book.
It came from the image of the dead dog with the fork through it. I just wanted a good image on that first page. To me, that was gripping and vivid, and it stuck in your head. Only when I was writing it did I realize, at least to my mind, that it was also quite funny. But it was only funny if you described it in the voice that I used in the book.
So the dog came along first, then the voice. Only after a few pages did I really start to ask, Who does the voice belong to? So Christopher came along, in fact, after the book had already got underway.
That voice is everything in a book like this, and Haddon nails it—the affectless, deadpan voice allows a uniquely paradoxical blend of sadness and humor, one that can slip down all sorts of side roads without losing the continuity of the story. At just over 200 pages (with more than a few diagrams), it’s a quick, wonderful little read, and highly recommended.
* Which, if you’ve seen the British version of The Office, you will always think of as the location of the Wernham Hogg branch absorbed into David Brent’s Slough branch.