The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
Our narrator is a pretty unique guy. He has a pet rat, seems to drink nothing but strawberry milkshakes, and does high-level math problems in his head… for fun. He also has a disability – unspecified in the book, but that has been elsewhere compared with Asperger syndrome – that makes social interactions very difficult and uncomfortable.
Man of Many Faces
Here are just a few adjectives that come to mind when we think of Christopher:
Notice anything weird about that list? Well, they're all totally contradictory. So we'll be more specific.
He's brilliant, there's no doubt about that – he's just a super-duper math whiz. But he's also totally clueless, unaware of things that, to most people, would be impossible to ignore (for example, his mother having an affair with the next-door neighbor).
He doesn't like people making fun of him, but he says some pretty insulting things about his classmates in turn. As a writer, he comes across really sweet, showing affection for people and animals, for his heroes and his readers. But he also pulls a knife (literally) on a few people, and is quite ready to pull it on his dad. And he's both incredibly sensitive (to the objects in his environment) and insensitive (to the people in his environment).
As a reader, it might be a little difficult to know how to feel about Christopher. We realize his disorder affects his ability to interact with people. But, even knowing this, he sure does some pretty obnoxious things in the book – not only obnoxious, but often quite hurtful to the people who love him (from literally painful, like smashing his mother's foot with a cutting board, to more upsetting, like smashing expensive items in a store).
Yet we can't help but root for the guy.
Christopher vs. The World
We also have to point out that Christopher holds himself to a very different standard than he holds other people. He insists that things must be a certain way, and has no appreciation that other people might have different preferences from him, and that those preferences are every bit as valid as his own.
Here's a (pretty big) example: He unexpectedly shows up at his mother's house in London, after not seeing her for two years. She's forced to put everything in her life on hold to take care of him, and ends up losing her job and leaving her partner. Christopher then demands that they return to his hometown immediately so he can take an exam. The notion that this might be inconvenient for his mother doesn't enter into the equation in the least. Of course his mother left him high and dry two years earlier, but this doesn't seem to be his motivation.
This double standard also comes into other aspects of his life: he constantly insists that lying is wrong (and renounces his relationship with his dad over a lie) yet finds all sorts of ways to get around telling the truth himself. He knows perfectly well that he isn't being honest, but is able to get around calling it "lying," which is pretty dishonest in itself, if you ask us.
So, is it unfair to expect more of him, or to hold him accountable for his actions? Is it wrong to even ask these questions? To be honest, we're not really sure. But, of course, it's important to remember that since Christopher is the narrator, the only things we know about him are the pieces he's told us himself.
Honest Abe (we mean Chris)
It's Christopher's narrative style that we happen to find so reassuring, by the way – he writes nothing but clear, direct sentences, not trying to hide anything or even alter the slightest detail. He simply describes the world as he sees it, and then makes judgments based on that info. Although we might disagree with his decisions and tactics, we're never unclear about the motives: for example, we might disagree with his decision to run away from home, but we certainly understand his intense fear, and follow his logic all the way through to his decision to leave.
So, again, the plainspoken honesty of the narration is reassuring. But should it be? Does his honesty contradict the times he seems to be lying in the book? Or perhaps it suggests that while he's always honest with himself (in writing his book), he has zero trouble lying to other people?
For a moment, let's separate Christopher-the-author from Christopher-the-character. Are the two different? Does it seem like the Christopher whose actions we read about is the same as the Christopher who writes about those actions? And how do we deal with the cold distance with which Christopher describes the more emotional moments of the story? They were his emotions, after all.
There are a lot of tough questions when it comes to Chris. But by asking those questions, we get a chance to delve into the mind of a really fascinating dude and think about the world in a different light. So ask away.