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On Sale: May 18, 2004
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

   Christopher John Francis Boone 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.
    This improbable story of Christopher's quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

Excerpt

2.It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.

I went through Mrs Shears’ gate, closing it behind me. I walked onto her lawn and knelt beside the dog. I put my hand on the muzzle of the dog. It was still warm.

The dog was called Wellington. It belonged to Mrs Shears who was our friend. She lived on the opposite side of the road, two houses to the left.

Wellington was a poodle. Not one of the small poodles that have hairstyles but a big poodle. It had curly black fur, but when you got close you could see that the skin underneath the fur was a very pale yellow, like chicken.

I stroked Wellington and wondered who had killed him, and why.

3
.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.

Eight years ago, when I first met Siobhan, she showed me this picture

[sad face]

and I knew that it meant ‘sad,’ which is what I felt when I found the dead dog.

Then she showed me this picture

[smiley face]

and I knew that it meant ‘happy’, like when I’m reading about the Apollo space missions, or when I am still awake at 3 am or 4 am in the morning and I can walk up and down the street and pretend that I am the only person in the whole world.

Then she drew some other pictures

[various happy, sad, confused, surprised faces]

but I was unable to say what these meant.

I got Siobhan to draw lots of these faces and then write down next to them exactly what they meant. I kept the piece the piece of paper in my pocket and took it out when I didn’t understand what someone was saying. But it was very difficult to decide which of the diagrams was most like the face they were making because people’s faces move very quickly.

When I told Siobhan that I was doing this, she got out a pencil and another piece of paper and said it probably made people feel very

[confused face]

and then she laughed. So I tore the original piece of paper up and threw it away. And Siobhan apologised. And now if I don’t know what someone is saying I ask them what they mean or I walk away.

5.
I pulled the fork out of the dog and lifted him into my arms and hugged him. He was leaking blood from the fork-holes.

I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk.

I had been hugging the dog for 4 minutes when I heard screaming. I looked up and saw Mrs Shears running towards me from the patio. She was wearing pyjamas and a housecoat. Her toenails were painted bright pink and she had no shoes on.

She was shouting, "What in fuck’s name have you done to my dog?"

I do not like people shouting at me. It makes me scared that they are going to hit me or touch me and I do not know what is going to happen.

"Let go of the dog," she shouted. "Let go of the fucking dog for Christ’s sake."

I put the dog down on the lawn and moved back 2 metres.

She bent down. I thought she was going to pick the dog up herself, but she didn’t. Perhaps she noticed how much blood there was and didn’t want to get dirty. Instead, she started screaming again.

I put my hands over my ears and closed my eyes and rolled forward till I was hunched up with my forehead pressed onto the grass. The grass was wet and cold. It was nice.

7.
This is a murder mystery novel.

Siobhan said that I should write something I would want to read myself. Mostly I read books about science and maths. I do not like proper novels. In proper novels people say things like, "I am veined with iron, with silver and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist which those clench who do not depend on stimulus" . What does this mean? I do not know. Nor does Father. Nor do Siobhan or Mr Jeavons. I have asked them.

Siobhan has long blonde hair and wears glasses which are made of green plastic. And Mr Jeavons smells of soap and wears brown shoes that have approximately 60 tiny circular holes in each of them.

But I do like murder mystery novels. So I am writing a murder mystery novel.

In a murder mystery novel someone has to work out who the murderer is and then catch them. It is a puzzle. If it is a good puzzle you can sometimes work out the answer before the end of the book.
Siobhan said that the book should begin with something to grab people’s attention. That is why I started with the dog. I also started with the dog because it happened to me and I find it hard to imagine things which did not happen to me.

Siobhan read the first page and said that it was different. She put this word into inverted commas by making the wiggly quotation sign with her first and second fingers. She said that it was usually people who were killed in murder mystery novels. I said that two dogs were killed in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the hound itself and James Mortimer’s spaniel, but Siobhan said they weren’t the victims of the murder, Sir Charles Baskerville was. She said that this was because readers cared more about people than dogs, so if a person was killed in the book readers would want to carry on reading.

I said that I wanted to write about something real and I knew people who had died but I did not know any people who had been killed, except Edward’s father from school, Mr Paulson, and that was a gliding accident, not murder, and I didn’t really know him. I also said that I cared about dogs because they were faithful and honest, and some dogs were cleverer and more interesting than some people. Steve, for example, who comes to centre on Thursdays, needs help to eat his food and could not even fetch a stick. Siobhan asked me not to say this to Steve’s mother.

11.
Then the police arrived. I like the police. They have uniforms and numbers and you know what they are meant to be doing. There was a policewoman and a policeman. The policewoman had a little hole in her tights on her left ankle and a red scratch in the middle of the hole. The policeman had a big orange leaf stuck to the bottom of his shoe which was poking out from one side.

The policewoman put her arms round Mrs Shears and led her back towards the house.

I lifted my head off the grass.

The policeman squatted down beside me and said, "Would you like to tell me what’s going on here, young man?".

I sat up and said "The dog is dead."

"I’d got that far," he said.

I said, "I think someone killed the dog."

‘How old are you?’ he asked.

I replied, "I am 15 years and 3 months and 2 days."

"And what, precisely, were you doing in the garden?" he asked.
"I was holding the dog,’ I replied.

‘And why were you holding the dog?" he asked.

This was a difficult question. It was something I wanted to do. I like dogs. It made me sad to see that the dog was dead.

I like policemen, too, and I wanted to answer the question properly, but the policeman did not give me enough time to work out the correct answer.

"Why were you holding the dog?" he asked again.

"I like dogs," I said.

"Did you kill the dog?" he asked.

I said, "I did not kill the dog."

"Is this your fork?" he asked.

I said, "No."

"You seem very upset about this," he said.

He was asking too many questions and he was asking them too quickly. They were stacking up in my head like loaves in the factory where Uncle Terry works. The factory is a bakery and he operates the slicing machines. And sometimes the slicer is not working fast enough but the bread keeps coming and there is a blockage. I sometimes think of my mind as a machine, but not always as a bread-slicing machine. It makes it easier to explain to other people what is going on inside it.
The policeman said, ‘I am going to ask you once again…’

I rolled back onto the lawn and pressed my forehead to the ground again and made the noise that Father calls groaning. I make this noise when there is too much information coming into my head from the outside world. It is like when you are upset and you hold the radio against your ear and you tune it halfway between two stations so that all you get is white noise and then you turn the volume right up so that this is all you can hear and then you know you are safe because you cannot hear anything else.

The policeman took hold of my arm and lifted me onto my feet.

I didn’t like him touching me like this.

And this is when I hit him.

13.
This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them. Here is a joke, as an example. It is one of Father’s.

His face was drawn but the curtains were real.

I know why this is meant to be funny. I asked. It is because drawn has three meanings, and they are 1) drawn with a pencil, 2) exhausted, and 3) pulled across a window, and meaning 1 refers to both the face and the curtains, meaning 2 refers only to the face, and meaning 3 refers only to the curtains.

If I try to say the joke to myself, making the word mean the three different things at the same time, it is like hearing three different pieces of music at the same time which is uncomfortable and confusing and not nice like white noise. It is like three people trying to talk to you at the same time about different things.

And that is why there are no jokes in this book.

17.
The policeman looked at me for a while without speaking. Then he said, "I am arresting you for assaulting a police officer."

This made me feel a lot calmer because it is what policeman say on television and in films.

Then he said, "I strongly advise you to get into the back of the police car because if you try any of that monkey-business again, you little shit, I will seriously lose my rag. Is that understood?"

I walked over to the police car which was parked just outside the gate. He opened the back door and I got inside. He climbed into the driver’s seat and made a call on his radio to the policewoman who was still inside the house. He said, "The little bugger just had a pop at me, Kate. Can you hang on with Mrs S while I drop him off at the station? I’ll get Tony to swing by and pick you up."

And she said, "Sure. I’ll catch you later."

The policeman said, "Okey-doke," and we drove off.

The police car smelt of hot plastic and aftershave and take-away chips.

I watched the sky as we drove towards the town centre. It was a clear night and you could see the Milky Way.

Some people think the Milky Way is a long line of stars, but it isn’t. Our galaxy is a huge disc of stars millions of light years across and the solar system is somewhere near the outside edge of the disc.

When you look in direction A, at 90º to the disc, you don’t see many stars. But when you look in direction B, you see lots more stars because you are looking into the main body of the galaxy, and because the galaxy is a disc you see a stripe of stars.

And then I thought about how, for a long time scientists were puzzled by the fact that the sky is dark at night, even though there are billions of stars in the universe and there must be stars in every direction you look, so that the sky should be full of starlight because there is very little in the way to stop the light reaching earth.

Then they worked out that the universe was expanding, that the stars were all rushing away from one another after the Big Bang, and the further the stars were away from us the faster they were moving, some of them nearly as fast as the speed of light, which was why their light never reached us.
I like this fact. It is something you can work out in your own mind just by looking at the sky above your head at night and thinking without having to ask anyone.

And when the universe has finished exploding all the stars will slow down, like a ball that has been thrown into the air, and they will come to a halt and they will all begin to fall towards the centre of the universe again. And then there will be nothing to stop us seeing all the stars in the world because they will all be moving towards us, gradually faster and faster, and we will know that the world is going to end soon because when we look up into the sky at night there will be no darkness, just the blazing light of billions and billions of stars, all falling.

Except that no one will see this because there will be no people left on the earth to see it. They will probably have become extinct by then. And even if there are people still in existence they will not see it because the light will be so bright and hot that everyone will be burnt to death, even if they live in tunnels.

19.
Chapters in books are usually given the cardinal numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on. But I have decided to give my chapters prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and so on because I like prime numbers.

This is how you work out what prime numbers are.

First, you write down all the positive whole numbers in the world.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 910
11121314151617181920
21222324252627282930
31323334353637383940
414243444546474849etc.

Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 2. Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 3. Then you take away all the numbers that are multiples of 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and so on. The numbers that are left are the prime numbers.

2357
11131719
2329
3137
414347etc.

The rule for working out prime numbers is really simple, but no one has ever worked out a simple formula for telling you whether a very big number is a prime number or what the next one will be. If a number is really, really big, it can take a computer years to work out whether it is a prime number.
Prime numbers are useful for writing codes and in America they are classed as Military Material and if you find one over 100 digits long you have to tell the CIA and they buy it off you for $10,000. But it would not be a very good way of making a living.

Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. 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.

23.
When I got to the police station they made me take the laces out of my shoes and empty my pockets at the front desk in case I had anything in them that I could use to kill myself or escape or attack a policeman with.

The sergeant behind the desk had very hairy hands and he had bitten his nails so much that they had bled.

This is what I had in my pockets:

1.
A Swiss Army Knife with 13 attachments including a wire-stripper and a saw and a toothpick and tweezers.
2.
A piece of string.
3.
A piece of a wooden puzzle which looked like this
4.
3 pellets of rat food for Toby, my rat.
5.
£1.47 (this was made up of a £1 coin, a 20p coin, two 10p coins, a 5p coin and a 2p coin)
6.
A red paperclip
7.
A key for the front door.

I was also wearing my watch and they wanted me to leave this at the desk as well but I said that I needed to keep my watch on because I needed to know exactly what time it was. And when they tried to take it off me I screamed, so they let me keep it on.

They asked me if I had any family. I said I did. They asked me who my family was. I said it was Father, but Mother was dead. And I said it was also Uncle Terry but he was in Sunderland and he was Father’s brother, and it was my grandparents, too, but three of them were dead and Grandma Burton was in a home because she had senile dementia and thought that I was someone on television.

Then they asked me for Father’s phone number.

I told them that he had two numbers, one for at home and one which was a mobile phone and I said both of them.

It was nice in the police cell. It was almost a perfect cube, 2 metres long by 2 metres wide by 2 metres high. It contained approximately 8 cubic metres of air. It had a small window with bars and, on the opposite side, a metal door with a long, thin hatch near the floor for sliding trays of food into the cell and a sliding hatch higher up so that policemen could look in and check that prisoners hadn’t escaped or committed suicide. There was also a padded bench.

I wondered how I would escape if I was in a story. It would be difficult because the only things I had were my clothes and my shoes which had no laces in them.

I decided that my best plan would be to wait for a really sunny day and then use my glasses to focus the sunlight on a piece of my clothing and start a fire. I would then make my escape when they saw the smoke and took me out of the cell. And if they didn’t notice I would be able to wee on the clothes and put them out.

I wondered whether Mrs Shears had told the police that I had killed Wellington and whether, when the police found out that she had lied, she would go to prison. Because telling lies about people is called Slander.

29.
I find people confusing.

This is for two main reasons.

The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean "I want to do sex with you" and it can also mean "I think that what you just said was very stupid."

Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breath out loudly through your nose it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.

The second main reason is that people often talk using metaphors. These are examples of metaphors

I laughed my socks off.
He was the apple of her eye.
They had a skeleton in the cupboard.
We had a real pig of a day.
The dog was stone dead.

The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it comes from the Greek words meta (which means from one place to another) and ferein (which means to carry) and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.

I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.

My name is a metaphor. It means carrying Christ and it comes from the Greek words cristoV (which means Jesus Christ) and ferein and it was the name given to St Christopher because he carried Jesus Christ across a river.

This makes you wonder` what he was called before he carried Christ across the river. But he wasn’t called anything because this is an apocryphal story which means that it is a lie, too.
Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.

31.
It was 1:12 am when Father arrived at the police station. I did not see him until 1:28 am but I knew he was there because I could hear him.

He was shouting, "I want to see my son," and "Why the hell is he locked up?" and, "Of course I’m bloody angry."

Then I heard a policeman telling him to calm down. Then I heard nothing for a long while.

At 1:28 am a policeman opened the door of the cell and told me that there was someone to see me.
I stepped outside. Father was standing in the corridor. He held up his right hand and spread his fingers out in a fan. I held up my left hand and spread my fingers out in a fan and we made our fingers and thumbs touch each other. We do this because sometimes Father wants to give me a hug, but I do not like hugging people, so we do this instead, and it means that he loves me.

Then the policeman told us to follow him down the corridor to another room. In the room was a table and three chairs. He told us to sit down on the far side of the table and he sat down on the other side. There was a tape recorder on the table and I asked whether I was going to be interviewed and he was going to record the interview.

He said, "I don’t think there will be any need for that."

He was an inspector. I could tell because he wasn’t wearing a uniform. He also had a very hairy nose. It looked as if there were two very small mice hiding in his nostrils .

He said, "I have spoken to your father and he says that you didn’t mean to hit the policeman."

I didn’t say anything because this wasn’t a question.

He said, "Did you mean to hit the policeman?"

I said, "Yes."

He squeezed his face and said, "But you didn’t meant to hurt the policeman?"

I thought about this and said, "No. I didn’t meant to hurt the policeman. I just wanted him to stop touching me."

Then he said, "You know that it is wrong to hit a policeman, don’t you?"

I said , "I do."

He was quiet for a few seconds, then he asked, "Did you kill the dog, Christopher?"

I said, "I didn’t kill the dog."

He said, "Do you know that it is wrong to lie to a policeman and that you can get into a very great deal of trouble if you do?"

I said, "Yes."

He said, "So, do you know who killed the dog?"

I said, "No."

He said, "Are you telling the truth?"

I said, "Yes. I always tell the truth."

And he said, "Right. I am going to give you a caution."

I asked, "Is that going to be on a piece of paper like a certificate I can keep?"

He replied, "No, a caution means that we are going to keep a record of what you did, that you hit a policeman but that it was an accident and that you didn’t mean to hurt the policeman."

I said "But it wasn’t an accident."

And Father said, "Christopher, please."

The policeman closed his mouth and breathed out loudly through his nose and said, "If you get into any more trouble we will take out this record and see that you have been given a caution and we will take things much more seriously. Do you understand what I’m saying?"

I said that I understood.

Then he said that we could go and he stood up and opened the door and we walked out into the corridor and back to the front desk where I picked up my Swiss Army Knife and my piece of string and the piece of the wooden puzzle and the 3 pellets of rat food for Toby and my £1.47 and the paperclip and my front door key which were all in a little plastic bag and we went out to Father’s car which was parked outside and we drove home.

37.
I do not tell lies. Mother used to say that this was because I was a good person. But it is not because I am a good person. It is because I can’t tell lies.

Mother was a small person who smelt nice. And she sometimes wore a fleece with a zip down the front which was pink and it had a tiny label which said Berghaus on the left bosom.

A lie is when you say something happened which didn’t happen. But there is only ever one thing which happened at a particular time and a particular place. And there are an infinite number of things which didn’t happen at that time and that place. And if I think about something which didn’t happen I start thinking about all the other things which didn’t happen.

For example, this morning for breakfast I had Ready Brek and some hot raspberry milkshake. But if I say that I actually had Shreddies and a mug of tea I start thinking about Coco-Pops and lemonade and Porridge and Dr Pepper and how I wasn’t eating my breakfast in Egypt and there wasn’t a rhinoceros in the room and Father wasn’t wearing a diving suit and so on and even writing this makes me feel shaky and scared, like I do when I’m standing on the top of a very tall building and there are thousands of houses and cars and people below me and my head is so full of all these things that I’m afraid that I’m going to forget to stand up straight and hang onto the rail and I’m going to fall over and be killed.

This is another reason why I don’t like proper novels, because they are lies about things which didn’t happen and they make me feel shaky and scared.

And this is why everything I have written here is true.
Mark Haddon|Author Q&A

About Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Photo © Nigel Barklie

MARK HADDON is the author of the international bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Whit­bread Book of the Year award, and of the New York Times bestseller A Spot of Bother. In addition to The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, a collection of poetry, Haddon has written and illustrated numerous award-winning children’s books and television screenplays.

Author Q&A

What research did you do into Autism and Behavioural problems before writing this novel, is Christopher's character based on anyone in particular?
After leaving university I spent several years working with adults and children who had a variety of physical and mental handicaps (as they were then known). Ever since that time I've been interested in the subject of disability and mental illness. As a result, hardly a week goes by without me reading an newspaper article or watching a television documentary about schizophrenia or manic depression or Tourette's… And hardly a month goes by without me meeting yet another person who is the parent or grandparent of someone who has been diagnosed as having Asperger's. I also know a number of adults (men, mostly) who would almost certainly be diagnosed with the syndrome if they had been born twenty, thirty, forty years later. And that was the extent of my 'research'. I deliberately didn't consult fat tomes on Asperger's or visit special schools when I was working on the book because I wanted Christopher to work as a human being and not as a clinical case study.

The book has been published for adults and children simultaneously; did you set out to write a book which would appeal to such a wide age range?
No. I wrote it to entertain myself (which is, I think, the motivation behind any half-decent novel) in the hope that there would people out there who shared my interests and obsessions. So the much-vaunted 'crossover appeal' came as a very pleasant surprise.

Have you received any positive feedback from people with Aspergers Syndrome/ Autism, their families, or people who work with them?
To be scrupulously honest… the book had one very bad review from a young man with Asperger's who thought the book was bad, mainly because Christopher wasn't like him or like any other people he knew with Asperger's. But the review missed the point, I think. People with Asperger's are as diverse a group as Belgians or trumpet players or train drivers. There is no typical or representative person with Asperger's. And to try and create one would have produced a stereotype.

On the other hand I've been genuinely moved and completely taken by surprise by the number of parents and grandparents of young people with Asperger's who have written to tell me that the book rings completely true for them.

I have been even more surprised to receive several invitations to address academic conferences on Asperger's and Autism. Which misses the point in a different way, I think. If Christopher seems real it's because he's well-written not because I'm an expert in the area. We live in an age obsessed with documentaries, with biographies, with investigative journalism. We often forget that you can have all the facts but be no nearer the truth. And this is what novels are good at. A novel can put you inside another person's head and give you an understanding of their life you could only get by moving into their house for six months.

How did you come up with such and original idea for a novel?
It happened piece by piece and without any deliberate seeking after originality or quirkiness. I began with the image of the dog stabbed with the fork simply because I was searching for a vivid and gripping way of starting a novel. I then realised that if you described it in a flat, emotionless, neutral way it was also (with apologies to all dog lovers) very funny. So I had the voice. Only after using that voice for a few pages did I work out who it belonged to. Having done that the difficult thing was to work out a believable way for Christopher to construct a novel given that he is utterly unaware of the reader's emotional responses to what he is writing. Having Christopher simply copy his hero, Sherlock Holmes, by borrowing the format of the murder mystery was the solution to this problem. Finally, because I genuinely believed that very few people would want to read a novel about a teenage boy with a disability living in Swindon with his dad, I arranged the whole plot round the central turning point (where we discover who killed Wellington and what really happened to Christopher's mother) to make it as entertaining as possible, hopefully dragging the reader up to a highest point right in the middle, like a roller coaster, then speeding them down towards the conclusion.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Gloriously eccentric and wonderfully intelligent.” —The Boston Globe

“Moving. . . . Think of The Sound and the Fury crossed with The Catcher in the Rye and one of Oliver Sacks’s real-life stories.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"This is an amazing novel. An amazing book." —The Dallas Morning News

“A superb achievement. He is a wise and bleakly funny writer with rare gifts of empathy.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement

“Brilliant. . . . Delightful. . . . Very moving, very plausible—and very funny.” —Oliver Sacks

“Superb. . . . Bits of wisdom fairly leap off the page.” —Newsday

“Disorienting and reorienting the reader to devastating effect. . . . As suspenseful and harrowing as anything in Conan Doyle.” —Jay McInerney, The New York Times Book Review

“Extraordinarily moving, often blackly funny. . . . It is hard to think of anyone who would not be moved and delighted by this book.” —Financial Times, London

"Both clever and observant." —The Washington Post

“Full of whimsical surprises and tender humor.” —People

“[Haddon] illuminates a core of suffering through the narrowly focused insights of a boy who hasn’t the words to describe emotional pain.” —New York Daily News

"Outstanding. . . . A stunningly good read." —The Independent

“Engrossing . . . flawlessly imagined and deeply affecting.” —Time Out New York

“A remarkable book from a writer with very special talent.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Curious Incident is the rare book that repays reading twice in quick succession.” —Detroit Free Press

"Heart-in-the-mouth stuff, terrifying and moving. Haddon is to be congratulated for imagining a new kind of hero." —The Daily Telegraph

“This original and affecting novel is a triumph of empathy.” —The New Yorker

“Haddon’s book illuminates the way one mind works so precisely, so humanely, that it reads like both an acutely observed case study and an artful exploration of a different ‘mystery’: the thoughts and feeling we share even with those very different from us.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Mark Haddon’s portrayal of an emotionally disassociated mind is a superb achievement. He is a wise and bleakly funny writer with rare gifts of empathy.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement

"A murder mystery, a road atlas, a postmodern canvas of modern sensory overload, a coming-of-age journal and lastly a really affecting look at the grainy inconsistency of parental and romantic love and its failures. . . . In this striking first novel, Mark Haddon is both clever and observant, and the effect is vastly affecting." —The Washington Post

“Haddon’s gentle humor reminds us that facts don’t add up to a life, that we understand ourselves only through metaphor.” —Chicago Tribune

“Beautifully written. . . . Heart-in-the-mouth stuff, terrifying and moving. Haddon is to be congratulated for imagining a new kind of hero, for the humbling instruction this warm and often funny novel offers and for showing that the best lives are lived where difference is cherished.” —The Daily Telegraph

“A detective story with a difference. . . . [Haddon] has given his unlikely hero a convincing voice–and the detective novel an interesting twist.” —The Economist

"Think Huck Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, or the early chapters of David Copperfield." —Houston Chronicle

“A tale full of cheeky surprises and tender humor. . . . A touching evolution.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Funny, sad and totally convincing.” —Time

"More so than precursors like The Sound and the Fury and Flowers for Algernon, The Curious Incident is a radical experiment in empathy." —The Village Voice

“One of the strangest and most convincing characters in recent fiction.” —Slate

“I have never read anything quite like Mark Haddon’s funny and agonizingly honest book, or encountered a narrator more vivid and memorable. I advise you to buy two copies; you won’t want to lend yours out.” —Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

“At once funny and achingly sad, this thought-provoking debut may leave us wondering if our worn coping skills are really any better than Christopher’s.” —The News and Observer

“Filled with humor and pain, [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time] verges on profundity.” —San Jose Mercury News

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time brims with imagination, empathy, and vision–plus it’s a lot of fun to read.” —Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season

Awards

WINNER YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year
WINNER Booklist Editor's Choice for Young Adults
WINNER School Library Journal Adult Books for Young Adults
WINNER ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
WINNER New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award
WINNER 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize of Europe and South Asia
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

A Whitbread Book of the Year, Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, and New York Times Notable Book

“Gloriously eccentric and wonderfully intelligent.” —The Boston Globe

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We hope they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about this extraordinary novel, which won Britain’s Whitbread Award.

About the Guide

Christopher John Francis Boone 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. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order, and predictability shelter him from the messy wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, for which he is initially blamed.

Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face-to-face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.

And herein lies the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the freshest debuts in years: a comedy, a heartbreaker, a mystery story, a novel of exceptional literary merit that is great fun to read.

About the Author

Mark Haddon is a writer and illustrator of numerous award-winning children’s books and television screenplays. As a young man, Haddon worked with adults and children with a variety of physical disabilities and learning difficulties. He teaches creative writing for the Arvon Foundation. He lives in Oxford, England.

Discussion Guides

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 scenarios?

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 narration?

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 again?

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 life?

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?

Suggested Readings

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes; Uta Frith, Autism: Explaining the Enigma; Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences; Temple Grandin, Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism; Henry James, What Maisie Knew; Mel Levine, All Kinds of Minds: A Young Student’s Book About Learning Abilities and Learning Disorders; Ian McEwan, Atonement; Clara Claiborne Park, The Siege: A Family’s Journey into the World of an Autistic Child; Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales.

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