I am not sure why the K-State Book Network picked “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” for this year’s common read, but they probably should have picked something else. Anything else.
I have read every single KSBN common read book since the program was first conceived, and this one–by far–is my least favorite.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon is a first-person narrative story about teenager Christopher Boone, a mathematical savant with a photographic memory who prefers the company of animals to other people and struggles with empathy and identifying human emotions, who must solve the mystery of who killed the neighborhood dog.
At least, that is what the book alleges to be about. In all actuality, the book is really about abusive father Ed Boone lying about Christopher’s mother’s death, blaming his mother’s disappearance on his son’s developmental disability and physically abusing his son. It is implied that this is okay, since Christopher himself is incapable of recognizing his father’s actions as abusive, and even going so far as to suggest that Christopher himself is responsible for it. He buys his son a dog at the end, so all is well … right? Wrong.
Christopher’s developmental disability is never mentioned (at least in my edition of the book), but it was profoundly obvious that Christopher is meant to have Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Asperger’s Syndrome was even mentioned by name on the cover of an earlier edition of the book.
But “The Curious Incident” is not a story about an autistic boy … at least, according to Haddon in a 2009 blog post, where the author scrambled to defend his offensive depiction. Haddon admitted that he knew “very little about the subject,” and did no research for the novel, relying on imagination instead of hard facts about the disorder he chose to portray in his main character.
Haddon may have a compelling reason for denying the obvious and pivotal plot point of his entire story, which is that Christopher embodies some of the most harmful and negative stereotypes about people with ASD.
Through the admission of his father, it was Christopher’s fault that his parents’ marriage fell apart, he shows no understanding of human emotions, believes himself superior to other humans to the point of wishing for humankind’s extinction, is overly fond of knives and has frequent violent outbursts.
“The Curious Incident” is a horrible examination of autism and a profoundly harmful and shamefully inaccurate depiction of life on the autistic spectrum, made worse by the fact that the author himself refuses to admit the truth of what he has so obviously and so poorly represented. This book is beyond problematic. It is downright offensive.
In addition to being poorly researched and narratively uncompelling, it perpetuates the very worst of stereotypes that stoke the fires of discrimination that make life difficult for autistic people all over the world.
This is not a charming tale of an autistic boy using his greatest strengths to solve a mystery that is important to him. It is a gross normalization of abuse, victim-blaming and autistic stereotypes.
“The Curious Incident” is an awful book, and I am deeply saddened and ashamed the KSBN selected it. Unless you have received a copy for free, I would recommend against wasting your money on it. Haddon does not deserve your dollars, nor does this book deserve your attention.
Iris LoCoco is a sophomore in computer science and 2015 K-State graduate in art history. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.