In the first scene of the book, Christopher discovers that their neighbor’s dog, Wellington, has been killed with a large garden fork. Christopher has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism that is challenging but manageable. He likes mysteries and decides not only to solve the mystery of who killed the neighbor dog but also to write a book about it. This book, written and narrated by Christopher, is his chronicle of events. This is a book worth re-reading, especially to appreciate a number of scenes that are mysterious during the first read through and ironic on subsequent reads.
1. As the book progresses, Christopher eventually discovers that it was his own father who killed the neighbor’s dog. Early in the story, after the dog has been discovered, and Christopher has announced, to his father’s angry horror, that he intends to find out who did it, we have this scene:
Father was sitting on the sofa watching snooker on the television and drinking scotch. There were tears coming out of his eyes.
I asked, “Are you sad about Wellington?”
He looked at me for a long time and sucked air in through his nose. Then he said, “Yes, Christopher, you could say that. You could very well say that.”
I decided to leave him alone because when I am sad I want to be left alone.
Clearly, Christopher’s dad is emotionally distraught, and once we know that his dad killed the dog and why, we recognize the irony in the scene and in his father’s reaction to Christopher’s question.
2. Author Mark Haddon uses character irony brilliantly as he portrays Christopher and his friends and family. Because of his Asperger's, Christopher tells us that he has trouble comprehending the emotions of others, he cannot tell jokes because they often use metaphors (which he equates with lies), and he cannot stand being touched by other people. So for instance when he goes into a shop, points to a book and asks if it is an “A to Z” map of London, the shopkeeper laughs and says “No, it’s sodding crocodile.” Christopher wonders if he has heard the man correctly, for clearly a map is not a crocodile. Christopher’s lack of understanding of humor is an ironic and constant source of humor in the book, as he tries to reason through the jokes he hears. Indeed, at the beginning of the story, he tells us “This will not be a funny book.” His seriousness while telling us this makes us smile.
3. Another source of character irony in the book is the gap between what Christopher understands about the world and what we understand about Christopher and his world. Christopher cannot be touched by others, he cannot understand emotions—or so he says—and yet he is constantly asking questions and trying to figure things out. If someone touches him, he may start barking like a dog in response to express his discontent. And yet it is by his detective work about who killed the neighbor’s dog that Christopher inadvertently unravels the hidden mysteries of his family and the central mystery of how and why his parents split up (it was because of him). And Christopher does feel emotions. After he has run away to London to find his mother, Christopher narrates this intensely emotional scene with his father, who has come looking for his son:
And then Father came into my room. But I was holding my Swiss Army knife with the saw blade out in case he grabbed me. And Mother came into the room as well, and she said, “It’s OK, Christopher. I won’t let him do anything. You’re all right.”
And Father bent down on his knees near the bed and he said, “Christopher?”
But I didn’t say anything.
And he said, “Christopher, I’m really, really sorry. About everything. About Wellington. About the letters. About making you run away. I never meant . . . I promise I will never do anything like that again. Hey. Come on, kiddo.”
And then he held up his right hand and spread his fingers out in a fan so that I could touch his fingers, but I didn’t because I was frightened.
Despite what he may tell us, or tell himself, Christopher is driven by emotions too.
4. There is a lovely small ironic moment when Christopher discovers a letter written to him by his mother. Christopher’s father told him that his mother is dead. So Christopher is confused by the letter and wonders if his mother even wrote it. It is a mystery that makes him think very hard. As he sits on his bed in his bedroom and reads the letter:
And then the door of my bedroom opened and Father said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “I’m reading a letter.”
And he said, “I’ve finished the drilling. That David Attenborough nature program’s on telly if you’re interested.”
I said, “OK.”
Then he went downstairs again.
This is the letter that is going to blow up the family. Christopher tells the truth, and no more than that. His father does not press for details. The story might have gone very differently if his father has simply asked “what letter?” He doesn’t and blithely goes downstairs without knowing that everything in his life is about to change.
5. Because of his autism, Christopher has many challenges in life and in this story. But his autism is also the source of his determination and intelligence. And perhaps the most beautiful irony of all is that, despite the frustrations of his family and despite having many of the odds stacked against him, the events of the book, which Christopher narrates, have proven to him that:
And then, when I’ve done that, I am going to go to university in another town. And it doesn’t have to be in London because I don’t like London and there are universities in lots of places and not all of them are in big cities. And I can live in a flat with a garden and a proper toilet. And I can take Sandy and my books and my computer.
And then I will get a First Class Honors degree and I will become a scientist.
And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.
Christopher is going to be all right—he can do anything.