Anagnorisis and Peripeteia in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The heart of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a detective story, but the novel isn’t only about the detective story; it’s about the remarkable boy who solves it, Christopher John Francis Boon, who “know[s] all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057” (2). Some writers create plot twists that are easy to solve, but Haddon creates a character that overwhelms the reader with knowledge naturally that helps to bury all clues. Haddon creates a situation as unique as his character and enables the reader to discern the plot twist only when Haddon wants to.
[NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD.]
He sets up the plot as a typical detective story with a crime and several suspects, but the detective in this case is a fifteen-year-old mathematician with behavioral problems (6-8). As in any good detective story, the character eliminates the obvious and redirects suspicion on the next potential offender (30-31), but the setup isn’t the focus here-the clues after the setup are important. Seemingly out of nowhere, Haddon introduces a curious clue: a box full of letters in Christopher’s father’s closet (93). The letters, he finds out, are from his mother, and tell of why she left his father (104-112). Haddon steers the camera lens of the story where he wants to go, to Christopher’s father, who reacts violently to finding out Christopher snoops (114). This leads to the father talking with Christopher and admitting the shocking revelation that he “killed Wellington” (120).
The word anagnorisis comes from the Greek, and according to the Encyclopædia Britannica means “recognition” and “a startling discovery that produces a change from ignorance to knowledge” (anagnorisis). Christopher sees this as a betrayal; to him, if his father could kill a dog, he could potentially kill him too (122). Haddon shows the way Christopher thinks things through logically and makes links without connecting emotions. To Christopher his father may kill him “because had told a lie about a big thing” (122). So it looked as though it was one character (Mr. Shears) (58), but really it was Christopher’s father (122). Haddon cleverly executes clues into the general mix of facts that run through Christopher’s head so that the information just appears as part of the facts. No one recognizes who did it until the outburst.
Haddon completes the plot twist by using peripeteia, or “an ironic twist” (peripeteia). Instead of completing the normal expectation of a detective novel such as the bad guy going to jail, Haddon follows Christopher through his logical course of events: stating a question, finding several possible answers, and eliminating all but the most logical (130-131). This creates an interesting story situation because Christopher determines the best thing to do is “going to London to live with Mother” (131). The book takes a decided turn of events as Christopher runs away and travels via train to London (137-190). Haddon completes the twist by following it to a logical conclusion: the Mother moves back to the town Christopher grew up in and leaves her boyfriend (213-214). Again, Haddon turns away from expectations—a family reconciliation, or another pat answer—and goes for a reasonable conclusion—the separation of the family, but the idea that both family members are still in Christopher’s life (220-221).
Writers can learn from Haddon how to create an incident and twisting the expectations and the outcome to a new, original place. By weaving the story in the way he did, Haddon creates a story that approaches more universal tones like family life, and runaways. By itself the story of a math genius who solves a puzzle would be good, but Haddon takes his story to another level by creating an original line of thought and following it through to an unusual end.
I rate this as a three star book.
“Anagnorisis.”Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 8 Jun. 2016.
“Peripeteia.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 8 Jun. 2016.
Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. Print.
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