The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
We are introduced to Christopher Boone, the novel’s protagonist, just as he has discovered the body of his neighbour’s dog. It appears as though someone killed it with a garden fork. Unsure of what to do but sensing that he should do something rather than just stand there, Christopher picks the dog up. Unfortunately, his neighbour spots him and screams before calling the police.
When the police arrive, they attempt to touch Christopher, who feels a rush of anxiety and frustration and lashes out at them. He is taken to the police station and given a caution.
The next day, Christopher determines to investigate what really happened to the dog and who is responsible for its death. His father sternly warns him against taking such a path, stating that people don’t appreciate others getting involved in business that doesn’t concern them. Christopher proceeds with his investigation in secret, doing what he can to hide it from his father. The investigation is recorded in a book – the one we are reading.
It does not take long for Christopher’s investigation to stray away from the death of the dog and towards his family’s history. One afternoon, after returning from school, Christopher accidently leaves the book in open view of his father, who reads it and reprimands him for not obeying his orders to mind his own business. After happening upon a shoebox filled with letters, he realises that his ‘dead’ mother may not be dead at all, as the letters are from his mother and addressed to him. Christopher’s father told him that his mother had died from a heart attack when he was younger. In fact, she now lives in London with Mr Shears, the family’s former neighbour – the two had an affair. Christopher faints in shock.
Later that day, when Christopher’s father comes home, he breaks down as he confesses to his son that he was motivated by a desire to protect his son emotionally. He also reveals that he is the one who killed the dog. This revelation prompts Christopher to think that he is no longer safe at home with his dad, so he packs up his pet rat Toby and runs away.
At the train station, Christopher buys a ticket to London. The experience is extremely challenging for him; he is especially tormented by the loud noises and volume of people bustling against each other.
Christopher’s mother is completely taken aback by his arrival in London, as she was totally unaware that his father had been keeping her letters from him. Christopher settles in at the apartment his mother shares with Mr Shears, but his presence puts a strain on the relationship, and his mother soon decides to leave London and return to Swindon without Mr Shears.
In Swindon, Christopher moves into a new apartment with his mother, where his father regularly visits them both. Christopher’s pet rat Toby dies, and his father gifts him a puppy. At school, Christopher sits the A-level maths exam and scores the top mark possible.
The novel concludes with Christopher stating that he plans to take more A-level exams before attending university in another town, to study to become a scientist. He knows he can do this “because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? And I found my mother and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.”
In terms of what issues of context are reflected in the text, the primary focus is on people with Asperger’s syndrome (AS). The text does not seek to investigate any broad, general social or political currents. Rather, it endeavours to examine the world as it was in 1998 from a perspective that is unique and generally difficult to relate to for those who do not have AS.
It is important to note that the specifics of Christopher’s condition are never fully divulged; Haddon only reflects certain behaviours that we know are common among people with AS.
First person perspective
Within the text, the first-person perspective is as much of a technique as it is a key idea or theme. Indeed, the perspective operates as a technique to more effectively communicate the unique lens through which Christopher views the world. From there, we are introduced to his mathematical conception of daily life; for Christopher, life is a series of patterns, rules, and systems, which are often expressed through his use of visual imagery in the form of graphs or tables. Even the chapter titles represent Christopher’s strictly-ordered way of looking at the world around him – the prime numbers suggest a dependency on order, routine, and certainty. That Christopher attempts to reduce the complexities of the world to the formulaic rules of maths moreover highlights how he struggles to relate to those around him. This becomes especially clear when he is confronted with emotion, as he must refer to his table of facial expressions to attempt to understand what feelings people are trying to communicate.
From the outset, it is clear that Christopher lacks many positive social or familial relationships. He is isolated, both by his AS and by the fact that he is from a dysfunctional, broken family. It is somewhat ironic then that it is ostensibly because of his AS that he is able to begin the process of repairing his relationships with his family, even if he initially causes them more harm. Nonetheless, we get the sense that Christopher will forever be locked out of fully engaging with those in his life, something that is reinforced through the use of the first-person perspective. As the audience, we see things develop around the protagonist, but the protagonist himself is too unaware to recognise them for what they are.
Overcoming obstacles; personal growth
At its core, this is a story of personal growth. Christopher faces obstacles from almost every direction. And yet, he is able to overcome them with varying degrees of success. The most accurate measure of his growth though is that at the beginning of the novel, he is a somewhat reclusive and unadventurous being, while the final lines of the text highlight that he has proven to himself just how much he really can achieve if he sets his mind to it.
The search for meaning
Tied to his journey to personal growth, Christopher also unintentionally embarks on a search for meaning. Though he actively decides to investigate the killing of the dog, he does not realise what secrets will be revealed and is especially surprised when the truth behind his mother’s absence from his life comes out. Christopher gradually realises he exists in a world where most people are very different to him, and go about their days and lives accordingly. He is uncertain of how he is supposed to fit in, but something within him drives him to at least try and push himself, which is of course how the plot develops. As such, we can see that the plot is ostensibly shaped by Christopher’s pursuit for a clearer sense of meaning and place in his world, one that he had previously been sheltered from as a result of his anxiety about interacting with others.
First person perspective
It is from the first-person perspective that all other techniques and issues of form and structure flow.
Mathematics works throughout the text as a symbol for the unique lens through which Christopher views the world. His repeated reliance on it to explain things demonstrates his rigid mental process, which in turn alludes to the difficulties he experiences in associating and socialising with others.
The text as crime fiction
Given Christopher’s personality, it makes sense that he would present the process and findings of his investigation in the form of crime fiction. After all, the investigative process requires the gathering and analysis of evidence, and the drawing of conclusions from that evidence. That logical process appeals to Christopher’s mind, and in that way the structure and form of the text becomes one of the most crucial insights into the protagonist’s mind.
Use of visual imagery
The use of visual imagery, such as unsophisticated depictions of human faces, reflects the extent to which Christopher must simplify and condense otherwise complex human experiences in order to make sense of them himself.
Christopher’s straightforward, unimaginative and mechanical style of prose perfectly captures the way in which he sees the world. Such is evident in this passage, from the beginning of the novel: “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.”