The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, is a story told through the eyes of Christopher Boone, a teenager with autism who discovers his neighbor's dog dead one evening. He decides to write a book about the mystery behind the dog's death, using Sherlock Holmes (one of his favorite characters) as a model. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is nominally about Christopher's attempts to solve the mystery of the dog's murder, but his investigation leads him to much larger discoveries about his parents and their relationship with each other, and him.
Haddon narrates this book through Christopher's voice, which gives remarkable insight into the autistic mind. The story is told very literally and in a matter-of-fact tone, but the chapters advancing the plot are interpersed with ones about math, geography, biology, vocabulary and other topics that soothe and comfort Christopher's oversensitive brain. He has many patterns typical of autistic kids: he only eats foods of particular colors, he cannot stand to be touched, he is frightened of places and people he doesn't know, and he cannot process too many sensations at one time.
Most notably, Christopher is incapable of empathy. He cannot relate to what others might be feeling or how his actions may affect them, particulary his parents. He is in touch with his own feelings of anxiety, fear, or even pride, but he cannot seem to feel love or affection for other people.
While this book is very well-written and is at times quite funny, it's also very sad. One of Christopher's favorite dreams is one in which a virus has killed everyone on earth except for "special people like me" "who don't look at other people's faces and who don't know what these pictures mean" (insert pictures of sad/happy/angry faces). In the dream, Christopher knows that:
[N]o one is going to talk to me or touch me or ask me a question. But if I don't want want to go anywhere I don't have to, and I can stay at home and eat broccoli and oranges and licorice laces all the time, or I can play computer games for a whole week, or I can just sit in the corner of the room and rub a coin back and forth over the ripple shapes on the surface of the radiator.
Christopher's greatest joys in life do not have to do with other people, but with activities that he finds reassuring or comforting, or in contemplating difficult scientific and philosophical problems. Haddon beautifully paints the difficulties his parents face in raising him, and why their relationship fell apart.
I listened to most of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on audiobook. While the narrator was excellent, I recommend reading over listening to this book. The print version is filled with diagrams, drawings, equations, symbols, and even handwriting, which the listener misses out on. Also, when Christopher's mind goes into overdrive, or he tries to explain something complicated, it's easy to get distracted.
This is a very good book – highly recommended.
(Relax, FTC – audiobook came from the library and the paperback was in my personal library already.)