Literature: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

aka: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) is a novel by Mark Haddon. It is about young Christopher John Francis Boone, who knows all the countries of the world and all the prime numbers up to 7,057, but has almost no comprehension of human emotion.

One late night (exactly 7 minutes after midnight), he finds his neighbor's dog killed by a garden fork, leading him into an investigation that becomes about more than just a dead dog, but about the real world told through the eyes of a 15-year-old with severe autism, right down to the unnecessary details.

Adapted into a play which premiered in London in 2012 and debuted on Broadway in 2014. Similar to the book, which Christopher himself has written in-universe as a Mystery Writer Detective, he is also the author of his own play.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: It's mentioned that Christopher's mother hit him a few times as a kid simply because she didn't know how to deal with him. She did feel remorse though, and it's part of the reason she felt she wasn't a good enough mother for him.
    • Christopher's father also, although in his defence it takes a lot more to rattle him, considering his son's condition.
  • Alone with the Psycho: An unusual example, but this technically applies to the moment when Christopher's father catches him reading his still-living mother's letters, and due to having betrayed Christopher's trust, is forced to confess that he murdered Wellington.note 
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: In-universe. To most people, killing Wellington would be a pretty disgusting Kick the Dog (no pun intended) moment but not quite the Moral Event Horizon. To Christopher, it is as serious as killing a human being and his father is a murderer and Christopher must escape from the house because his father could kill anyone, including him.
    • As discussed below, it's commonly believed that Christopher has Asperger Syndrome but he actually shows lots of signs of being much lower down on the spectrum such as wetting himself and acting years younger than his actual age a lot.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: While Christopher is clearly meant to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum, it never says in the novel what exactly he is diagnosed with, if anything, though it could be...
    • In the final chapter, Christopher mentions his mother being prescribed with pills to "stop her from feeling sad".
  • Asperger Syndrome: The blurb of more recent editions of the book states he has Asperger's, although looking at the other students in his school as well as other indicators (such as attacking people who touch him), he may in fact have a more severe form of autism and Executive Meddling later changed it to Asperger's to make it easier for readers to empathise with him.
    • Haddon himself actually states that he never made the book specifically about someone on the autistic spectrum, but rather about someone who was an "outsider".
    • People who are actually autistic-spectrum tend to react poorly to the idea that Christopher is supposed to be anything like them.
  • Beige Prose: Chris writes in a rather stilted and matter-of-fact tone. His sentences follow a strict "this happened, and that happened" pattern. Most of his paragraphs begin with "And" or "Then". He usually only uses long sentences when digressing from the plot to discuss scientific concepts or his personal interests (or his autism).
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Christopher says his favorite subjects are mathematics, physics and mathematical physics.
  • Brooklyn Rage: The slightly watered-down London version. Several of the people Christopher meets in London sound particularly angry or at least high-strung—quite a few of them are given to dropping Cluster F-Bombs and Precision F-Strikes—although that might just be the typical rush-hour rudeness of any major metropolis. Plus, none of them would be expected to know how to deal with his behavioural issues.
  • Brown Note: Christopher hates the colours yellow and brown, especially yellow. He also despises loud noises, which cause him to scream and cover his ears.
  • Bumbling Dad: Christopher's dad isn't always the best father, but he at least tries to own up to his mistakes and it's clear he loves his son very much.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Christopher doesn't understand humour very well because he is so Literal-Minded.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Christopher refuses to outright lie, ever (though over the course of the story he becomes more comfortable telling white lies).
  • Captain Obvious: Christopher, for obvious reasons.
  • Cluster F-Bomb / Precision F-Strike: Lots of them.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Chris. Justified because of his autism.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: A fairly unconventional one, sure, but Chris does do quite a bit of growing up—most notably by going to London by himself, overcoming his fears of the very unfamiliar and unpredictable outside world, and it's all the more amazing considering his autistic condition. He matter-of-factly but proudly ends his book by reiterating his dream to go to university and become a scientist:
    Chris: And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington?, and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.
  • Conversational Troping: Christopher often muses about what we would recognize as tropes to himself, and why they're unrealistic. In one chapter he notes how silly the idea of Humanoid Aliens is, and instead thinks they would be more likely to be totally different. In another, he notices some people dressed as Horny Vikings and comments on how anachronistic their clothing is.
  • Cursed with Awesome / Blessed with Suck: Christopher is a mathematical genius but his social skills are in the negatives.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Christopher claims to have no sense of humour but is given to moments of dry, sardonic wit, an example being: "I think dogs are more interesting than some people. Steve who goes to be school for instance needs help to eat his food and could not even fetch a stick. Siobhan tells me not to say this to Steve's mother."
  • Deconstruction: Of the Kid Detective genre of books. It shows what kind of person would be stupid enough to go out of their way to search for clues about a 'murder' in a world dictated by reality, all for the sake of wanting to being a detective. In fact, the 'investigation' comes to a screeching halt less than halfway through the story because clues don't just fall into your lap.
  • Defective Detective: Christopher, naturally, given his autism (or at least a similar Ambiguous Disorder).
  • Department of Redundancy Department: When adults don't understand what he's saying, Christopher tends to just repeat himself word for word.
  • Direct Line to the Author: In-universe, Christopher is the author of the book.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: To some, Christopher's conviction that his father should go to jail for killing the dog, Wellington seems like this, but for Chris himself, who understands and empathizes with dogs more than human beings, this is entirely justified. However, in the States an animal abuse criminal database is being created, and you can get prosecuted for animal cruelty.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Christopher is very strong and doesn't realise he has to be careful at times.
  • Exact Words: When Chris' father admonishes him to drop the investigation into Wellington's murder, Chris carefully picks apart his father's words and deduces that, literally speaking, Ed has not expressly forbidden him from talking to his neighbour Mrs Alexander, although Chris clearly isn't supposed to be asking her about the murder.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Christopher ponders this trope at one point and dismisses it, saying that humans aren't the pinnacle of evolution but just one successful species out of many that have existed, and will probably go extinct in the future and be replaced by something else.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: It fits curiously with the attitude of people towards Christopher himself - quite innocuous deeds like colouring his food red and loving maths and science infuriated his own mother so greatly she left her family for her married neighbour. The boy didn't bully, steal, do drugs, make poorly in school; he was even unable to tell a lie.
  • Freak Out: Christopher gets overwhelmed easily by loud noises, physical contact and bright lights.
  • Genre Savvy: Christopher often refers to Detective Fiction tropes as a model for how he should investigate the crime.
  • Good with Numbers: By and large, Christopher's saving grace. So much so that:
    • he discusses several maths problems in his book, including the Monty Hall problem;
    • people ask him challenging mathematical operations for fun (which must seem terribly easy to him); and
    • he even includes the proof of his favourite problem on his A-level exams in an appendix to the book he's writing.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Chris' mother flat-out admits this in a letter to him. She throws tantrums if he doesn't particularly like his food and often hits him simply because she doesn't know how to handle his behavioural quirks.
  • Half Truth: Chris's father on Chris's mother:
    Father: She has a problem ... a problem with her heart.
  • Hard on Soft Science: Despite Christopher having almost No Sense Of Humour, he does enjoy one joke about inductive reasoning, because it shows a mathematician showing up an economist, and as he puts it, "economists aren't real scientists".
  • Hates Being Touched: Christopher hates it so much that he reacts violently whenever anyone touches him, even his own parents. Instead of hugging him, they touch their fingertips to his when they want to show affection.
  • Heroic BSOD: Christopher goes nearly catatonic when he finds out his father was the one who killed Wellington, and hid from him that his mother is not dead but merely abandoned them.
  • Hyper Awareness: The reason Christopher says he doesn't like new places or people: he has no filters and can't help but notice every little detail about the environment around him, down to the smell of a policeman's aftershave and the vents in his teacher's shoes. It doesn't help that he has a self-described Photographic Memory.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Ed does this a couple of times.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Ed is hiding letters from Christopher.
  • Idiot Savant: Christopher.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Christopher.
  • It's All About Me: Christopher, his mother and Mr and Mrs. Shears.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Chris, although you can't really blame him. Also, Chris's parents.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • It outrages Christopher that after he finds out that his father killed Wellington, they won't even get punished for it because they'll only do it if Mrs. Shears presses charges. Dogs tend to be innocent where the affairs of humans are involved, and that Wellington had nothing to do with Ed and Judy's maternal problems or the tribulations of raising an autistic child.
    • Judy calls out Ed for telling Chris she was dead, but he counteracts that letters in the mail are not a substitue for parental care.
  • Kid Detective / Amateur Sleuth: What Chris wishes to become.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Judy left Chris and Ed to pursue her affair with Mr. Shears. When Chris shows up years later, Mr. Shears leaves Judy.
  • Lies to Children: So, Ed, how's that whole pretending-your-wife-is-dead thing working out for your kid, eh?
  • Literal-Minded: The reason Chris doesn't understand metaphors and therefore considers them lies. For example: the common saying "the apple of one's eye" baffles him because he can't see how appreciating someone has anything to do with having an apple literally stuck in one's eye (which to him probably counts as an Eye Scream).
  • Literary Allusion Title: Silver Blaze, a Sherlock Holmes mystery (full quote at Fair Play Whodunnit).
  • Missing Mom: Christopher is raised by his father because his mother has died. Or so he's been told. She is actually living elsewhere.
  • Must Make Amends: Both of Chris's parents, for varying reasons. Ed lied about his wife's death amd killed an innocent dog that Chris liked, all because he was angry at the dog's owner and his life situation, and Judy left her son to pursue an affair and thought letters were a form of maternal care. By the end of the book Ed has bought a new puppy for Chris, and Judy has taken in Chris after Mr. Shears leaves her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Ed after Christopher successfully makes it to his mother's house, and all his actions come back to haunt him.
  • Mystery Writer Detective: Christopher is writing his book as he works on the mystery of who killed Wellington.
  • Nerd Glasses: Christopher mentions wearing glasses a few times. He rarely seems to wear them, though—the only major mention of them is at the start of the novel, where he muses about possibly using them to start a solar fire à la Lord of the Flies and escape from the holding cell at the police station. (Which would only work if he was farsighted, which Lord of the Flies infamously got wrong.)
  • No Name Given: We don't find out the names of his father or mother until well into the book (Ed and Judy). In universe too, when people ask him who his parents are (expecting a name) he only answers "Mother" or "Father."
  • No Social Skills: Christopher.
  • Not Using the A Word: Christopher is never identified as being anywhere on the autistic spectrum in the book. Haddon himself maintains that he wrote the character as an "outsider" more than anything else.
  • Parents as People: To the point were it might as well be called "parents as people, the book".
  • Pet the Dog: Ed takes Christopher to the zoo on the weekend to apologise for hitting him in anger. (No pun intended to the actual dogs in the story.)
  • Photographic Memory: Or, more precisely, Cinematographic Memory—Chris compares his memory to a video reel and frequently uses video similes (not metaphors) to illustrate his memory functions. If he blacks out at one point, he speaks of having his memory-tape erased; if he tries to recall something, he simply "rewinds" or "searches" through his mental archives to find relevant information (including how to respond to people having Convulsive Seizures). He also speaks of playing and pausing previous memories like video clips in his head.
    • Most importantly, due to his inability to filter sensory information normally, he can recall practically every visual detail of any given scene, even going years back. When, for instance, Chris revisits a farmland scene with a few cows, he remembers the number of cows, their skin patterns, the shape of the field, the details of a nearby village, the different kinds of litter at his feet, and so on.
  • Picky Eater: Chris, a trait of his ASD. He refuses to eat any food that has touched a different kind of food on his plate, and keeps a bottle of food colouring in the kitchen for yellow foods (his least favorite colour).
  • Posthumous Character: Subverted with Christopher's mother. Played straight with Wellington.
  • Punch a Wall: Ed punches a hole in a fence when Christopher won't talk to him.
  • The Rainman: Christopher is a classic example of the "autistic savant" trope: brilliant at math, poor at communicating, a Creature of Habit.
  • Reading Your Rights: Christopher gets this from the cop at the beginning, which he recognizes as standard procedure (and which he actually finds comforting, despite the fact that he just pissed off said cop by assaulting him).
  • Replacement Goldfish: As part of his Must Make Amends, Ed buys a new puppy for Chris, as a peace offering after revealing he killed Wellington.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Chris, as a consequence of his autism. He takes sarcasm from others at face value, particularly when he can't recognise the emotions accompanying it (usually anger or irritation). Take for instance his conversation with an irritable store clerk when buying a map of London:
    Christopher: [pointing to the map] Is that the A-to-Z?
    Shop Clerk: No, it's a sodding crocodile.
    [Chris thinks: But it's not a crocodile.]
    Christopher: Is that the A-to-Z?
    Shop Clerk: Yes, it's the A-to-Z.
  • Schedule Fanatic: Chris. He plans his daily routine down to the minute and gets upset when he isn't sure what time it is.
  • Shoot the Dog: Someone killed Wellington, and the dog died painfully. Ed at first doesn't seem to realize why this is horrible.]
  • Shout-Out: Christopher is a big fan of Science Fiction and mentions several franchises he likes, including Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Blade Runner. He also talks about Sherlock Holmes at length, who is his chief inspiration as a Kid Detective, in fact the title is a line from "Silver Blaze" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes).
    • Although he claims to hate what he terms "proper novels" — i.e., any other fiction besides sci-fi and murder mysteries — because "proper novels" tell stories that never happened, making them technically lies. He especially disdains supernatural fiction, even though one could argue that they are just as speculative as sci-fi.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Christopher's father, to the point where some of his lines resemble a Cluster F-Bomb.
    • Also applies for many of the people who talk to him, particularly in London.
  • Subways Suck: Chris is overwhelmed by sensory overload in the London Underground: the noises, the advertisements, and especially the people. At one point he goes down onto the Underground tracks to rescue his rat Toby even as the train is bearing down on them both.
  • Super OCD: Christopher gets very upset when anything in his house is changed and goes as far as measuring where the furniture is so he can put it back in the right places after his mother vacuums. He likes Mrs. Shears because she's very neat and organizes everything in the kitchen.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Christopher loves strawberry milkshakes and mentions them several times in the book. He's also fond of Indian food.
  • Threatening Shark: Discussed by Chris. He is absolutely terrified of sharks and remembers a time when he started screaming at the beach thinking his mother had been eaten by one (when in fact she was just swimming under the surface).
  • Tranquil Fury: Christopher cannot identify this in other people. When, for example, his father finds the book he's been working on, and realises he went out of his way to continue investigating Wellington's death, Chris can't tell at first that his father is angry at him because Ed questions him about this in a low, even tone.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Christopher does this when he is upset or overwhelmed.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: The chapter numbers are all prime numbers, which Christopher has a love for.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Despite his Photographic Memory. May be related to Innocent Inaccurate.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: From Christopher's own point of view, once he realises his mother's still alive from reading her letters. He obviously doesn't write about throwing up in his book, primarily because he was in the middle of a Heroic BSOD at the time and his memory blacked out—"like a bit of the tape had been erased," in his own words.
  • Wham Line: "I killed Wellington, Christopher."
  • Your Cheating Heart: Christopher gathers from a conversation with his neighbour Mrs Alexander that his mother started cheating on his father with Mr Shears. This is the real reason he doesn't see his mother anymore—not because she's dead, as his father told him, but because she moved to London with Mr Shears.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Christopher once punched a girl who was bullying him so hard that he knocked her out and she had to be taken to hospital with concussion.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Christopher hates breaking promises and when others lie to him, so he tries to keep all his promises and never lie. However, when his father makes him promise to stop investigating the murder of Wellington, Christopher breaks the promise down into its five component parts and continues the investigation by asking about unrelated but relevant things. When his dad finds out, he's not happy.

Alternative Title(s):

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime