‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time’ novel/play review

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So, what is the fuss about ‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time’? Well, there is every right to be such a fuss. The way the author Mark Haddon in the novel wrote about Asperger Syndrome in a sensitive yet simple way through the eyes of the 15 year old Christopher Boone suffering from the condition gives you a real insight into the condition. If you do not know much about the autistic spectrum in general then this novel is a good place to start. Basically somebody who is autistic can be the most logical person you are likely to meet but the most complex at the same time.

The whole story is based around Christopher trying to work out who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s dog after he finds the dog stabbed to death with a garden fork in the middle of the night on the neighbour’s front lawn. He is caught by the neighbour (Mrs Shears) and the police turn up to take him to the police station. After he comes away with a caution he then sets out on a mission to work out who the murderer of this dog is. Obviously logic says those who kill should get punished but when you put this into practice it is not as simple as first thought.

Christopher’s Dad (Ed Boone) whom he lived with had to work long hours for his boiler engineering business but at the same time as a single parent he had to look after his son who he loved dearly. So much so that he had to be cruel to be kind, the book his son was writing to record the notes of his murder mystery (an obsessive, compulsive trait typical of somebody with autism) was taken away from him by his father after he promised to his father that he would stop his detective game and did not obey. His dad read the book and found out that Christoper was told something from a neighbour he was never supposed to find out. Christopher’s project would not stop though and he was determined to get back his book and that he did from under his dad’s bed.

The drama continued when the letters he found under the bed were all addressed to him. Funnily enough these letters had been written in his mother’s (Judy Boone) handwriting who he thought had died before the letters had been written. He was so confused that reading the letters was his only option. For Christopher doing so would be one of the toughest things to ever happen to him though.

However, the moments in the opening scene when we understood what living with autism is like gave you a flavour of the novel from the off. Autistic people like Christopher feel a real sense of discomfort when someone goes into their personal space and so this was proved when he hits a policeman hard and screams after the policeman tries to pick him up and put him in his van. Also, his parents had to connect with their son by letting their hands touch palm to palm only, which sensitively dealt with the fragile topic.

When Christopher’s thoughts were narrated to the reader this showed us how autistic people can pick the information they are given through all of their senses with a fine tooth comb. For instance, ‘the policeman had a big orange leaf stuck to the bottom of his shoe’ and ‘It smelt of bleach and gravy’ referring to somewhere he once visited explaining the cognitive difficulties people on the autistic spectrum can have as they have to process everything that goes into their head. Later on in the story this is shown when Christoper arrives at Paddington station in London (74.9 miles from Swindon in Wiltshire) where the atmosphere is too much to handle. He understands this though and explains on his train journey to London that when train passengers look out the window they may consider one thing but he would have to consider everything and so literally that he would have to numerically process the houses or trees.

Metaphors and autism is certainly not a match made in heaven, (pardon the metaphor). For example Christopher rightly so does not understand what people mean when they say things like ‘I’ve had a pig of a day’. Literally many with autism treat life literally which explains their understanding of maths, ‘A mathematician with behavioural difficulties’ is how Christopher describes himself and this is a perfect fit. He may not talk to strangers, or he may refuse a gift as well as telling you outright that having an affair is ‘doing sex’ which can sometimes be an awkward way of behaving but a Mathematician he is and it would not even take a genius to work out what his A-level maths result would be. Siobhan, his mentor at school exclaimed ‘Aren’t you pleased?’ but this was responded to with ‘Well yes, it’s the highest grade you can get.’ He does not mean to be but can come across big-headed like when he states that ‘I will get a first class honours degree and then become a scientist.’ You cannot argue when he questions whether there is a heaven if it is not in our universe though.

Seeing the novel adapted into a theatrical performance allowed the honesty of the story to be shown. With a book you have the tool of imagination however sometimes with Theatre and Cinema real-life can be difficult to depict. This was overcome through using a stage with limited set that was similar throughout, therefore the one thing you will remember coming out the theatre is how the novel was performed. Luke Treadaway who played Christoper Boone got autism down to a tee, for instance probably the most typical autistic trait of averting the look of others would make you think the actor actually was autistic. However he was not and it blew your mind to know that the likeliness is he would have had to understood how to solve a terribly difficult maths equation when the average person, ‘wouldn’t have a clue.’

The one thing we can all take from the novel or play is that many will not treat autism like other conditions because they think that an autistic person is so clever so they will make their way in life. You can be the cleverest person in the world though and still have problems in your life. The performance really captured this and I am sure will have made many look at not just autism but mental illness in a different light.

 

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