June 2003

Holmes is where the heart is

By Mark Haddon
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Imagine having the capacity to calculate every prime number up to 7,057, but an utter inability to express anger, love or fear. That's the brilliant, bewildering reality for Christopher John Francis Boone, the 15-year-old narrator of Mark Haddon's whimsical first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

An autistic savant who finds comfort in contemplating the solar system and doing "maths," Christopher Boone lives with his father, a good-natured handyman, in London. In some ways, the young boy's life is that of a typical teen—he enjoys caring for his pet rat, Toby, and dreams of being an astronaut—and in others, it is rigid and ritualistic. He refuses to eat yellow or brown foods, or foods that have touched each other on his plate.

When Christopher discovers his neighbor's dog Wellington impaled on a garden fork, any semblance of normalcy in the child's existence comes to a screeching halt. Inspired by his hero, whodunit doyen Sherlock Holmes, Boone sets out in search of clues to the canine conundrum. What begins as a quirky mystery quickly transforms into a moving coming-of-age tale in which a child comes to terms with his parents' troubled marriage.

A creative writing professor at Oxford University, London-born Haddon worked with autistic savants as a young man. Add to that his vast experience as a writer and illustrator of award-winning children's books—his drawings, from constellations to a depiction of the time-space continuum, are sprinkled throughout the text—and you have all the makings of a crackling cinematic success. It's little wonder that Harry Potter producers, Heyday Films, in conjunction with showbiz veterans Brad Grey and Brad Pitt, snapped up the film rights faster than you can say "Elementary, Watson."

Allison Block is a writer and editor in La Jolla, California.

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