People with autism don’t perceive emotional information and they become easily confused by other people, explains Mark Haddon’s protagonist, Christopher. They are often highly intelligent in a particular subject area, especially when it involves systems, logic or math. Christopher is an autistic teenager who has always attended a school for ‘special needs’ children. Unlike his stupid classmates who mess up the toilets at school, Christopher is preparing to sit his A-Level examination in math. This is the British equivalent of the American AP-exams. Christopher will be the first student from his school ever to take an A-Level exam. The test will be the high-point of his life to date and the first mile-stone towards his ambition to become an astronaut.
Meanwhile, somebody murdered Wellington, the neighbor’s standard poodle, with a garden fork. Christopher found the dead dog, got in trouble with a policeman, and decided that not only would he solve the mystery of the dog’s death, he would write a novel about the process of solving it. His model would be Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of the Baskervilles. His protagonist would be himself.
The mystery becomes intensely personal for Christopher because he is forced to face issues of trust, deceitfulness and betrayal for the first time.
The fears these problems produce force him to break away from some of the fixated behaviors and routines which have always provided him with safety, predictability and structure. He emerges stronger, albeit profoundly different from most people; not rescued from his disability, but more mature in spite of it. The story is written in the first person, in a stream-of-consciousness which includes frequent parenthetical comments to explain the autistic reasoning process to Christopher’s readers. This arouses in Mark Haddon’s actual readers a startling pathos and a disturbing empathy because Christopher’s world, which is devoid of emotional intelligence, is full of intense suffering. The reader is drawn into Christopher’s fears and fetishes and becomes unwittingly sympathetic to them. The story is straight-forward, simple and surreal in its brutal honesty. Everyone should read it.