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A Dog’s Tale

LONDON — The hero of Mark Haddon’s first piece of adult fiction is a sensitive, misunderstood teenage boy with a strange pet and a mystery to solve — but that’s pretty much where the Harry Potter parallels end. Haddon’s...

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Mark Haddon

Photo By Claire McNamee

LONDON — The hero of Mark Haddon’s first piece of adult fiction is a sensitive, misunderstood teenage boy with a strange pet and a mystery to solve — but that’s pretty much where the Harry Potter parallels end. Haddon’s hero, Christopher John Francis Boone, is a 15-year-old who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, and his world is more darkly comic than sweet and whimsical.

Haddon, who lives in Oxford and has written 14 children’s books, never set out to write about an autistic boy when he started “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (Doubleday). He says Christopher came along well into the first chapter of the critically acclaimed book, which kicks off with a murdered standard poodle on a suburban lawn.

“I was describing the whole scene with the dead dog and it just turned out to be funny,” says Haddon. “It was only until the voice of the narrator was up and running that Christopher came along.” One reason the dead-dog moment is funny — rather than sickening or sad — is that Christopher is totally and utterly unflappable. For example, after he pulls the bloodied garden fork out of the dog, he tells the reader: “I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk.” And that’s the end of his reaction — except for a scientific curiosity.

A few pages later, the mystery of the dead poodle begins to unfold, with brilliant Christopher collecting his clues, taking life very literally and giving the reader descriptions of the world as he sees it — complete with graphs, mathematical equations, drawings and charts.

In the past, Haddon worked with adults and children who had a variety of disabilities — including autism — and believes they have personal problems like everybody else. “I didn’t do any specific research before writing and, frankly, Christopher is an amalgam of the behavior, thoughts and habits of people who are not disabled,” he says.

In addition to his children’s books, the 40-year-old Haddon has won two Bafta awards for “Microsoap,” a children’s TV drama coproduced by Disney and the British Broadcasting Corp. His books range from stories about hidden polar bear caves to magic trains to mystery stories for preadolescent boys. The TV drama, “Microsoap,” was about two children with divorced parents. “We even had surreal inserts that predated the ones in ‘Ally McBeal,’” says the easygoing Haddon with pride.
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