Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Curious Incident of a National Bestseller

Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a national bestseller. Congratulations to Mr. Haddon; however, the congratulations are due to Vintage Books for clever marketing. After reading this novel, the most perplexing part of it is: how did this book become so popular?
The fifteen year old narrator is an autistic fellow named Christopher Boone who, initially, is on the detective hunt for the murderer of Wellington, the neighbor's dog. If readers nationwide who spent $13.95 on this novel are interested in autistic narrator, that's one thing. For all I know, most folks might find autism entertainment. In 1988, at the height of the success of the movie Rainman, it would almost be understandable that this novel could have gathered a little acclaim. However, during the 224 pages of the novel, I felt like hiding in the closet and “doing groaning,” too, because like Christopher I felt like I was subjected to too much noise.
If not autism, perhaps it's the clever written word by the hands of this narrator. This book doesn't necessarily need to be elegantly written. It is the narrator's story and in that way it is understandably written as such. Writing an entire novel like this reminds me of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Mr. Haddon has attempted to put his readers into the mind of his narrator simply by writing like a fifteen year old autistic boy. I don't think he failed entirely, but it became tiresome. Mr. Keyes's narrator, Charly, was much more of a success. At least, the point of Flowers for Algernon was clear, and the reader really felt profound sorrow for Charly. Not to mention the writing style of the latter was designed for a more sophisticated audience, adult readers, for example.
If not the above points, perhaps it is the numerous illustrations in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which qualify the novel for bestseller status. Again, not being a master of “maths” myself, I really didn't care for the explanations. Lewis Carroll, or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a mathematician by training. In his stories, any problems of mathematics were solved by a more magical process than simply hard mathematical equations on the page. Besides the math, even the illustrations were cumbersome. I failed to see how any of the pictures helped me to understand the story or the settings. Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions used illustrations too, only with more success.
So, why has this novel made the bestseller? Mark Haddon has not used any element never used before. It's a painful read, so painful in fact, I doubt I'll be able to look the man who recommended the book to me in the eyes. It makes me wonder if the recommender of the this book has read some of the books mentioned above. If he had, would be have spent the $13.95 on this one?

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time. Vintage Books: New York, 2003.

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