The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
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ABOUT THE BOOK
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the
Night-Time is the story of a
15-year-old boy named Christopher who investigates the stabbing death of his
neighbor's dog. Christopher has high-functioning autism (or Asperger's
syndrome) which affects his daily life and how he documents his investigation. He
knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number
up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human
emotions. He cannot stand to be touched, and he detests the color yellow. Christopher’s detective work, forbidden by his
father, takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world.This improbable story has become one of the most
captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Haddon (b. 1962) is an author, illustrator and
screenwriter who has written fifteen books for children and won two BAFTAs. He
is most famous for his novel The Curious
Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which won seventeen literary prizes,
including the Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 2003 and the Commonwealth
Writers' Prize Overall Best First Book in 2004. His poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the
Village Under the Sea, was published by Picador in 2005, and his last
novel, The Red House, was published
by Jonathan Cape in 2012. Haddon
lives in Oxford with his wife and their two sons. He enjoys canoeing, cycling,
and running marathons.
Questions from ReadingGroupGuides.com:
1. On pages 45–48, Christopher
describes his "Behavioral Problems" and the effect they had on his
parents and their marriage. What is the effect of the dispassionate style in
which he relates this information?
2. Given Christopher's aversion to being touched, can he experience his
parents' love for him, or can he only understand it as a fact, because they
tell him they love him? Is there any evidence in the novel that he experiences
a sense of attachment to other people?
3. One of the unusual aspects of the novel is its inclusion of many maps
and diagrams. How effective are these in helping the reader see the world
through Christopher's eyes?
4. What challenges does The
Curious Incident present to the ways we usually think and talk about
characters in novels? How does it force us to reexamine our normal ideas about
love and desire, which are often the driving forces in fiction? Since Mark
Haddon has chosen to make us see the world through Christopher's eyes, what
does he help us discover about ourselves?
5. Christopher likes the idea of a world with no people in it [p. 2]; he
contemplates the end of the world when the universe collapses [pp. 10–11]; he
dreams of being an astronaut, alone in space [pp. 50–51], and that a virus has
carried off everyone and the only people left are "special people like
me" [pp. 198–200]. What do these passages say about his relationship to
other human beings? What is striking about the way he describes these
6. On pages 67–69, Christopher goes into the garden and contemplates the
importance of description in the book he is writing. His teacher Siobhan told
him "the idea of a book was to describe things using words so that people
could read them and make a picture in their own head" [p. 67]. What is the
effect of reading Christopher's extended description, which begins, "I
decided to do a description of the garden" and ends "Then I went
inside and fed Toby"? How does this passage relate to a quote Christopher
likes from The Hound of the
Baskervilles: "The world is full of obvious things which nobody by
chance ever observes" [p. 73]?
7. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, Hans Asperger, the doctor
whose name is associated with the kind of autism that Christopher seems to
have, notes that some autistic people have "a sort of intelligence
scarcely touched by tradition and culture --- unconventional, unorthodox,
strangely pure and original, akin to the intelligence of true creativity"
[An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks, NY: Vintage Books, 1995, pp.
252–53]. Does the novel's intensive look at Christopher's fascinating and often
profound mental life suggest that in certain ways, the pity that well-meaning,
"normal" people might feel for him is misdirected? Given his gifts,
does his future look promising?
8. Christopher experiences the world quantitatively and logically. His
teacher Mr. Jeavons tells him that he likes math because it's safe. But
Christopher's explanation of the Monty Hall problem gives the reader more
insight into why he likes math. Does Mr. Jeavons underestimate the complexity
of Christopher's mind and his responses to intellectual stimulation? Does
Siobhan understand Christopher better than Mr. Jeavons?
9. Think about what Christopher says about metaphors and lies and their
relationship to novels [pp. 14–20]. Why is lying such an alien concept to him?
In his antipathy to lies, Christopher decides not to write a novel, but a book
in which "everything I have written . . . is true" [p. 20]. Why do
"normal" human beings in the novel, like Christopher's parents, find
lies so indispensable? Why is the idea of truth so central to Christopher's
10. Which scenes are comical in this novel, and why are they funny? Are
these same situations also sad, or exasperating?
11. Christopher's conversations with Siobhan, his teacher at school, are
possibly his most meaningful communications with another person. What are these
conversations like, and how do they compare with his conversations with his
father and his mother?
12. One of the primary disadvantages of the autistic is that they can't
project or intuit what other people might be feeling or thinking --- as
illustrated in the scene where Christopher has to guess what his mother might
think would be in the Smarties tube [pp. 115–16]. When does this deficit become
most clear in the novel? Does Christopher seem to suffer from his mental and
emotional isolation, or does he seem to enjoy it?
13. Christopher's parents, with their affairs, their arguments, and
their passionate rages, are clearly in the grip of emotions they themselves
can't fully understand or control. How, in juxtaposition to Christopher's
incomprehension of the passions that drive other people, is his family
situation particularly ironic?
14. On pages 83–84, Christopher explains why he doesn't like yellow and
brown, and admits that such decisions are, in part, a way to simplify the world
and make choices easier. Why does he need to make the world simpler? Which
aspects of life does he find unbearably complicated or stressful?
15. What is the effect of reading the letters Christopher's mother wrote
to him? Was his mother justified in leaving? Does Christopher comprehend her
apology and her attempt to explain herself [pp. 106–10]? Does he have strong
feelings about the loss of his mother? Which of his parents is better suited to
taking care of him?
16. Christopher's father confesses to killing Wellington in a moment of
rage at Mrs. Shears [pp. 121–22], and swears to Christopher that he won't lie
to him ever again. Christopher thinks, "I had to get out of the house.
Father had murdered Wellington. That meant he could murder me, because I
couldn't trust him, even though he had said 'Trust me,' because he had told a
lie about a big thing" [p. 122]. Why is Christopher's world shattered by
this realization? Is it likely that he will ever learn to trust his father
17. How much empathy does the reader come to feel for Christopher? How
much understanding does he have of his own emotions? What is the effect, for
instance, of the scenes in which Christopher's mother doesn't act to make sure
he can take his A-levels? Do these scenes show how little his mother
understands Christopher's deepest needs?
18. Mark Haddon has said of The
Curious Incident, "It's not just a book about disability.
Obviously, on some level it is, but on another level . . . it's a book about
books, about what you can do with words and what it means to communicate with
someone in a book. Here's a character whom if you met him in real life you'd
never, ever get inside his head. Yet something magical happens when you write a
novel about him. You slip inside his head, and it seems like the most natural
thing in the world" [http://www.powells.com/authors/haddon.html ]. Is a
large part of the achievement of this novel precisely this --- that Haddon has
created a door into a kind of mind his readers would not have access to in real
19. Christopher's journey to London underscores the difficulties he has
being on his own, and the real disadvantages of his condition in terms of being
in the world. What is most frightening, disturbing, or moving about this
extended section of the novel [pp. 169–98]?
20. In his review of The
Curious Incident, Jay McInerney suggests that at the novel's end
"the gulf between Christopher and his parents, between Christopher and the
rest of us, remains immense and mysterious. And that gulf is ultimately the
source of this novel's haunting impact. Christopher Boone is an unsolved
mystery" [The New York Times Book Review, 6/15/03, p. 5)]. Is this an
accurate assessment? If so, why?
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