I very much enjoyed reading the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. The author, Mark Haddon, does a wonderful job convincing the reader that it is written by a 15 year-old developing with a form of autism. The difficulties of dealing with emotions, both those of others and his own, and the struggles of dealing with real life family issues in this context are clearly presented.
It is easy to become attached to the character despite the difficulties he describes in relating to people. I believe this ease of connection stems from the many similarities between the protagonist’s reactions to stressful situations and how most people would react in similar situations. These similarities invite the reader to empathize with a character with which many would otherwise have difficulty understanding in the day-to-day world.
We all have coping mechanisms, conscious and otherwise. Attempts to avoid certain situations that we predict as painful are universal. How we do so varies from person to person and is influenced throughout our development by ourselves and our environment.
These similarities resonate with the audience, and the differences inspire us to think, “what is different?” One mechanism of coping for Christopher is in mentally performing various forms of mathematics as a means of escape or calming. Some readers may have analogously reacted to similar stressors by trying to think of something peaceful or by going to a quiet area of the home, or by watching television, etc. We hope it culminates, similar to Christopher, with some consideration of what it is that is creating the stress so it can be addressed directly.
So, why math? Why white noise? How do his methods of escape and eventual working through of problems contribute to those aspects of himself that wind up conflicting in some ways with other aspects of society?
These questions are answered to varying degrees in the copious literature out there. Haddon does an excellent job presenting these questions and gives the reader the welcome opportunity to actively empathize with the main character and hence learn. And I believe that empathizing is one of the best, if not the best, methods of learning.
I leave you with a quote showing one of the delightful points of simultaneous introspection and societal commentaries peppered throughout the book. Here he talks of finding “interesting things”:
… people go on holidays to see new things and relax, but it wouldn’t make me relaxed and you can see new things by looking at earth under a microscope or drawing the shape of the solid made when 3 circular rods of equal thickness intersect at right angles. And I think that there are so many things just in one house that it would take years to think about all of them properly. And also, a thing is interesting because of thinking about it and not because of being new. For example, Siobhan showed me that you can wet your finger and rub the edge of a thin glass and make a singing noise. And you can put different amounts of water in different glasses and they make different notes because they have what are called different resonant frequencies, and you can play a tune like Three Blind Mice. And lots of people have thin glasses in their houses and they don’t know you can do this …