MARK HADDON’S novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an excellent example of the case of the unreliable narrator.
This is not to suggest that the central character and first-person narrator, Christopher Boone, is lying or even exaggerating in telling us his story. On the contrary, Christopher, a student at a “special” school, believes that everything he says is the truth.
As his audience, we are implicitly invited by the author to observe a more complex perspective beyond Christopher’s world view. In fact, towards the climax of the book we may even feel frustrated and desperately sorry for his suffering parents.
The point in the narration where we may begin to suspect we understand more than Christopher about the subjective world of human behaviour comes early in the novel. The 15-year-old tells us that when he was seven he was unable to interpret the emotions conveyed by cartoon illustrations of human faces, and that when they were explained to him, he used them as a reference for understanding the expressions on the faces of real people. Not only does he not seem to realise that this behaviour might seem odd to others but that, “now if I don’t know what someone is saying I ask them what they mean or I walk away”. There is no self-irony here, no sense of awareness or self-judgement in retrospect, nor of how to relate to people and to understand them or to get into their skin to experience their viewpoint.
Christopher’s narration is composed not of human insight and subjective comprehension but of factual, statistical information, sensory perception, of observing, recording and storing those facts and perceptions – and of reacting to them. Images, colour, sound, smell, taste, touch, the entire physicality of the world without interpretation constantly pours in upon him. We see this from the opening paragraph: “It was seven minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed . . . The dog was dead.”
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