I’m embarassed to confess this, but the end of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time brought tears to my eyes. Everything that Everything is Illuminated tried to be (to somewhat satisfying effect), Dog sure as hell is. The novel appears inspired by the skewered perspectives of Paul Auster, Eric Kraft’s postmodern scrapbook approach, and W.G. Sebald’s penchant for contextual insets. Or not. Only Haddon really knows. But where Auster is content to bullshit with annoying asides, Haddon incorporates his cant into a universe that matters.
If the book was judged solely as a bravura performance of perspective, this would be enough. The narrator’s solipsism, the attempts by tertiary characters to reach out to Christopher, and the fact that the story is written in such an uncompromising way are all laudable. But the novel’s linear approaach matches its protagonist’s scientific mind. The story wends its ways through unexpected twists and a determination to solve a mystery, the great irony being that the mystery is much larger than even Christopher realizes. Christopher’s attempts to apply order, often when surrounded by elements of the world he doesn’t entirely understand, show off his blind spots. The book can be read as a dialectic between the real and the intellectual worlds. But Dog is a brave enough novel to voice the triumphs and weaknesses in prioritizing one world over the other. I came away from the book thinking about how little we accommodate those who are special or off-kilter, and how this willing ignorance often causes these minds to develop in unhealthy, emotional ways.
And that’s why anyone interested in literature should read this book immediately. That is, if they haven’t already.
[1/24/06 UPDATE: As to the question of what Haddon does for an encore, his followup is a chapbook of poetry called The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea.]