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The Curious Incident... is a curious book. Mark Haddon's first adult novel is many things: A detective story, a travel story, a psychological case study, simple, complex. What it is not is the sort of novel you expect to achieve widespread success; and, refreshingly, it is not the sort of novel you expect to see on the longlist for the Man Booker prize.

One night, fifteen year-old Christopher John Francis Boone finds a dead dog on his neighbour's lawn. The dog has been murdered: Killed with a garden fork. Christopher likes dogs. He can understand dogs - their emotions are clear and direct. People are a different matter. Christopher (though this is never stated within the text of the novel) has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. The thoughts and feelings of other people are and always will be obscure to him.

This has two immediate implications for the novel. Firstly, it provides the tension that drives the plot: Christopher decides that he is going to solve the mystery of the dead dog, an endeavour which places him squarely in conflict with his limitations. Secondly, since Christopher narrates the story, his limitations define the style of the novel. The Curious Incident... is a novel of dislocation. Christopher's perception of the world is different to ours, and it is a testament to Haddon's control of his prose that the reader frequently finds himself caught in an emotional paradox, simultaneously distanced from and engaged by the story.

Characterisation, in particular, is deftly handled. Sometimes Haddon can slip it to the reader past Christopher's nose, but by and large we learn what we learn about Christopher's friends and relatives by omission: By what we are not told, by what Christopher leaves out. It is a neat trick - handled, indeed, so neatly that the reader is forced to confront his own limitations. How much do we understand what our brothers, our mothers, our partners are saying? How much do we ever (and how much can we ever) understand one another? How much do we miss, day by day?

Such ruminations are not displayed on the surface of this novel - by its nature, they could not be - they are inspired by it. Meanwhile, the pace of storytelling throughout is brisk; digressions are rare, and everything is relevant. Christopher's habit of illustrating his tale with puzzles and problems will either bemuse or entertain, depending on your preference. And at the risk of trivialising his condition, he is in some ways familiar as the geek-as hero: Doggedly logical in his approach to every obstacle.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not, despite appearances, a simple story; and Christopher is not, despite appearances, a simple person. Both the book and the character, however, are intensely memorable. This is a novel of understated power that deserves both its hype and every ounce of its success.
 
 
 
 
 
 
actually, this novel was published in the UK by david fickling books -- as a children's book. it's been published in the US as an adult book. this amuses me, because it proves that american adults are just as smart as british children.
Heh. I've got this edition, which I've only ever seen shelved with adult fiction and is listed by Amazon as 'fiction, crime thrillers & mysteries'. Meanwhile, investigation reveals that there is also this edition, which is listed as 'childrens'. Both have a publication date of 1st May this year. I knew Haddon had written various other children's books; I didn't realise this one had a children's edition. So, I learn something new every day. :)
I've seen both of these, side by side in the shop, but never knew what the difference was (other than the cover). Thank you for clearing this one up :)

I'm waiting for it to come out in paperback.
I'm waiting for it to come out in paperback.

So was I, but then I noticed Amazon selling it for UKP5.49...
oh, now THAT is interesting. cross-marketing in action.
Hmmmm, sounds like an interesting book. Shall put it on my list.
Mr Itchy is reading this to me at the moment. It's terrific! Really unusual, and groolover (who should know) says it's pretty much on the mark, symptomatically speaking. A big yay.