You know something different is happening in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when you see that the first chapter is labeled 2. I actually leafed backward, thinking I had missed 1. but 1. was nowhere to be found. "All right," I thought, "I'll play by your rules." And that is a pretty good indication of how the book is going to unfold. We see life through a set of eyes that is playing by different rules. It is a testament to Mark Haddon's skill as a writer that we are not alienated by the experience, but drawn into the world according to Christopher, the autistic teenager who has just found the neighbour's dog skewered by a garden fork, the corpse still warm. Christopher, who has a great deal of trouble understanding emotions and attachments, is nonetheless moved by powerful emotions of his own, which comes clear as we move through the story. The overwhelming depth of his emotions is brought into even greater relief by the clinical detachment with which he describes them and their effects.
Christopher grieves in his own way, taking the dog into his arms and hugging him. This, of course, makes him look like the killer when Mrs. Shears, the neighbour, finds him there. He decides to find the real killer, not realizing the can of worms he is about to open. He describes his family and his neighbours and their reactions to him, to his investigation, and to each other in oblivious detail, often unaware of what those details mean, which is indeed the characteristic of autistic people. But their emotions, their struggles in dealing with Christopher and each other, are made only more obvious by the clinical treatment he gives them. And we finish the experience (it somehow seems a better word than "book") profoundly moved for all of them and paradoxically understanding them very well.
He does indeed solve the mystery, and it throws his precarious world into turmoil. The rules have shifted, and it takes every ounce of courage that Christopher possesses to deal with his new reality.
I really don't believe there could be a better book for the February installment of the We Read Diverse Books reading challenge, although there could be many equally good. But The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is, in the words of one reviewer, "a radical experiment in empathy." We feel for, and deeply understand, every member of Christopher's family, and close the book feeling like we have become someone else. Or at least that's the way I felt.
Mark Haddon's website (pretty quirky, hard to find info on his books)