#2 Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: Feeling different is normal
The second part in our series on Big Ideas in Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a little late since this week we have been busy helping our students prepare for HSC and IB assessments. This week’s big idea explores how the novel shows that feeling different IS normal and that the world can be a confusing and challenging place for everyone. It is easy to read the character of Christopher as a portrayal of difference - of someone who is built to see and understand the world in a way that is different from the mainstream. But this is not really what Haddon aims to do. (He has reminded people in interviews when they focus on Christopher as a portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum that no particular condition is specified for Christopher.) He wants to show that we all go through life feeling a little bit like we are not sure what the rules are or whether we have understood other people the right way. He does this through the characterisation of Christopher. When it comes to writing an essay on this novel it would be easy to write the WHOLE essay about Christopher because he really is a brilliantly depicted character but he is not the only one. It is important to discuss how other characters also face struggles in life, especially when it comes to relationships and family in the modern world.
How does an author get these hugely different characters across? Through language. Ed Boone has distinctive diction, prone to anger. Another of the techniques Haddon uses is to insert the letters from Christopher’s mum into the narrative. This creates a new first person narrative point of view within the novel; in other words, we here the voice of the mother directly rather than mediated through Christopher’s perspective. The letters explain in her own simple way the struggles she has had with her personal relationships.
The central feature of the book is the way in which Christopher uses language in unique and distinctive ways to show his internal thought processes and ways of coping in a fragmented and disconnected world. He creates meaning in his world by describing everyday features - train timetables, advertising posters, maps and signs - and how he interacts with them. Haddon’s use of various typographic features contribute to this.
Each of the characters is interacting with their own worlds too - making decisions, living with regrets, searching for a better life - and we get to see this close up experience of everyday life because of Christopher’s unique viewpoint.
Each of the characters is somehow very normal, with a very humdrum life which Haddon manages to turn into a gripping mystery full of eccentricity and unique viewpoints. He helps us to be more sympathetic to the ways in which Christopher is different but also to see that everyday lives are important enough to be the subject of a novel.