The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time takes place in the year 1998 in and around the town of Swindon, England. The fifteen-year-old narrator of the story, Christopher John Francis Boone, discovers the slain body of his neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, on the neighbor’s front lawn one evening and sets out to uncover the murderer. His investigation is at times aided, and at other times hampered, by the mild form of autism he lives with. After Christopher hits a policeman in a misunderstanding at the scene of the crime, the police take Christopher into custody. They release Christopher with only a stern warning, under the condition that he promises to them and to his father not to look into the murder any further.
Christopher chronicles his investigation in a book—the book we are reading—as part of a school assignment. Ignoring repeated warnings from his father, Christopher investigates the crime scene and conducts interviews with the residents of his block. He uncovers a more tangled plot than was first apparent when he discovers that his father and the owner of the slain dog, Mrs. Shears, had a romantic affair. He subsequently learns that their affair began in reaction to another relationship, one carried on between Mr. Shears and Christopher’s mother, before she disappeared from Christopher’s life.
At school, Christopher prepares for an A-level math exam that will enable him to attend a university, a feat no other child at his school has managed. He also continues to work on his book. Upon returning home one afternoon, Christopher accidentally leaves his book in plain view on the kitchen table. His father reads it, becomes angry, and confiscates it. Later, Christopher searches for the book and uncovers a series of letters, hidden in a shirt box in his father’s closet, addressed to him from his supposedly dead mother. The letters chronicle a life that his mother has continued to lead with Mr. Shears in London and contain repeated requests for Christopher to respond. In shock, Christopher passes out in his bedroom surrounded by the evidence of his father’s deception. When Father comes home and realizes what has happened, he breaks down in tears. He apologizes for his lies, explaining that he acted out of a desire to protect Christopher from the knowledge of his mother’s abandonment of the family. Christopher’s father also admits to killing Wellington after an argument with Mrs. Shears, his lover.
Christopher, now terrified of his father and feeling he can no longer trust him, sneaks out of the house and travels to London to live with his mother. During a harrowing journey, he copes with and overcomes the social fears and limitations of his condition, dodges police, and almost gets hit by a train. His arrival at his mother’s flat comes as a total surprise to her, as she had no idea that Christopher’s father had been withholding her letters. Christopher settles in for a time at his mother and Mr. Shears’s flat, but friction caused by his presence shortly results in his mother’s decision to leave Mr. Shears to return to Swindon. Christopher moves into a new apartment with his mother and begins to receive regular visits from his father. When Christopher’s pet rat Toby dies, Christopher’s father gives Christopher a puppy. At school, Christopher sits for his A-level math exam and receives an A grade, the best possible score. The novel ends with Christopher planning to take more A-level exams in physics and further math, and then attend a university in another town. He knows that he can do all of this because he solved the mystery of Wellington’s murder, was brave enough to find his mother, and wrote the book that we have read.
Brief Biography of Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon studied literature at Merton College, Oxford. He worked for a time with people with disabilities, and has also worked as an illustrator. He wrote a number of successful children’s books before TheCurious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and has since begun writing for adults. Haddon also teaches creative writing at Oxford University. He is an atheist and a vegetarian.
Historical Context of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Autism, a central aspect of the book, was not recognized until the twentieth century, and for many years, it was regarded without question as a disorder for which a cure needed to be found. The autism rights movement began in the late 1980s and is still gaining strength, led by autistic people who believe that they need no cure; instead, society needs to change its perspective on autistic people. People on the autism spectrum, they argue, function differently than others, but not in a lesser way. In fact, they have many qualities that allow them to excel in particular areas. Curious Incident could certainly be read as expressing support for this point of view. For his part, Mark Haddon claims to know little about autism, saying that Christopher matters more as a character for his unique perspective on the world than for the fact that he is on the autism spectrum.
Other Books Related to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Christopher makes frequent references to The Hound of the Baskervilles, a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes, perhaps the most famous fictional detective, was the main character of numerous mystery stories written at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. In some ways, Christopher uses the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles as a model for his own, because he likes reading Sherlock Holmes stories and because it also deals with a dog. Christopher also tries to imitate Sherlock Holmes in his attempts to solve the mystery of Wellington’s death, looking for clues and red herrings (false clues) and using logic to deduce what happened. Furthermore, the title of Haddon’s novel comes from the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze.” In this short story, “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is that the dog stayed quiet all through the night when a crime was committed, which Holmes takes as an indication that the culprit is someone known to the dog. Similarly, in Haddon’s novel, the killer of the dog ends up to be someone known to both the dog and to Christopher himself—his father.
Key Facts about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Full Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Where Written: Oxford, England
- When Published: 2003
- Literary Period: Contemporary fiction, Postmodernism
- Genre: Novel
- Setting: Swindon, in Wiltshire, England, and London, in the late twentieth century
- Climax: Christopher realizing that his mother is alive, and his father admitting he killed Wellington.
- Antagonist: Christopher’s father, Ed Boone, and society as a whole
- Point of View: First person