Realistic Infinitism in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
When discussing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Haddon has made it clear that he sees it as a piece of realistic fiction that is actually realistic: no lucky encounters, no interventions from a deity, just humdrum life. However, some have leveled critiques that The Curious Incident doesn’t meet these ideals because it uses odd events like a dead dog and an impromptu sprint to London to move the plot forward. Parallels can be drawn between this and Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor essentially states that in most cases, the simplest solution should be considered first. In other words: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Realistic fiction books rarely meet this standard. For example, The Great Gatsby relies on a reclusive millionare so in love with a lady that he situates his house. Technically, that could happen but, in reality, that would almost never happen. And, in any case, The Great Gatsby never covers the day to day events of Nick’s life. Despite what the critics say, Christopher’s reaction to climatic events of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not escapist and aligns with Haddon’s philosophy because his reaction is proportional to the events and realistic.
The entirety of the book is spent inside Christopher’s mind. This is, for the most part, a delightful experience. He has a unique way of thinking and we are privy to his every thought. Haddon uses this omniscient perspective into his mind to follow through with Haddon’s philosophy of “use[ing] your imagination and you’ll see that even the most narrow, humdrum lives are infinite in scope if you examine them with enough care”. Christopher certainly proves this true by discussing mathematical concepts like the Sieve of Eratosthenes and his arbitrary limits like “I think I’d like the pink squares but not the yellow squares because I don’t like yellow”. On the face of it, this is an extraordinarily boring paragraph because of its mundane subject material. However, Haddon has Christopher deliver it in such a fascinating way that it engages the reader and teaches us a lot about them. Haddon clearly puts a lot of effort into developing the day to day life of Christopher. Haddon manages to grab the reader’s attention with the most mundane events.
Haddon’s presentation is boosted by Christopher has Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the audience of the book never would have spent much time thinking about the mind of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. However, from the first paragraphs meticulous description of the dead dog, we can tell that something is different – even if he is discussing mundane events. This allows Haddon to describe mundane events and be truly realistic fiction while truly enjoying the reader. For example, when the policeman is questioning him about his potential involvement with Wellington’s death, Christopher thinks “he was asking too many questions…They were stacking up in my head like loaves in the factory where Uncle Terry works”. This clever way of thinking draws the reader’s attention while sticking squarely to the philosophy of being as normal as possible while using imagination as the “hook” for the readers to stay engaged in the story (as opposed to unrealistic plot jumps like most pieces of realistic fiction). This gives Haddon more liberty to talk about the sort of mundane events because he can rely on the Asperger’s Syndrome to engage the reader.
The critics contend that while Haddon executed the early parts of the story well, it falls apart in the latter half. In the latter half of the story, Christopher goes into his father’s room to search for something and instead finds a collection of recently dated letters from his supposedly dead mother. He freaks out, refusing to talk to his father and lies on the ground groaning. Based on what the readers has learned thus far, this is perfectly normal behavior for Christopher. It’s the next plot twist that has critics crying foul: he escapes the house, runs to the train stations and gets on a train to London. This development reeks of a deux ex machina because very little of what we think we know of Christopher would have led us to believe that he was capable of this. Upon closer examination of the context, we can see that it actually makes perfect sense that Christopher would run off like that.
Throughout the story, we consistently see that Christopher values order above all else. Even if it requires seizing onto arbitrary patterns (like the color of cars that he passes in the street being used to determine the quality of his day), he wants his life to have a lot more order than most people demand. The foundation for this order is objective facts. We constantly see him listing facts in a very plain manner. We also see that his tolerance for people who are wrong is not terribly high. When discussing the famous Monty Hall problem, he plainly states that the mathematicians and Mr. Jeavons were wrong. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that a huge lie (such as the one his father told him about his mother) would have set off such a toxic chain of events. Just because it was an extraordinary event does not necessarily mean it represents escapism if there was an appropriate rationale. The shock of rediscovering his mother combined with Asperger’s Syndrome provides that rationale. It’s unfair to say that Haddon is engaging in escapism after he spends the entire book establishing character traits that would suggest he’s capable of this.
This proportionality is key to the book. Most every event is normal because most events in life are normal. However, some events are not normal. Their existence does not mean that Haddon is engaging in escapism. Rather, it means that he is simply following his philosophy and reflecting life as it is.
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