This year’s winner is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon

article by Julia Eccleshare, The Guardian, Saturday October 4, 2003

Among the books submitted for the Guardian children’s fiction prize this year, many stood out for all kinds of reasons, but nothing was as engaging, original, and life-changing as Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

Published on both an adult and a children’s list, it is one of the few titles for which the ubiquitous claim of ‘crossover’ is not a gimmick. It genuinely has equal, though different, appeal to all readers – 15-year-old Christopher Boone’s narrative voice is at once childlike in its observations, and adult in its profundity.

Christopher is autistic and what he sees and feels cuts right across conventional responses. He can understand numbers, and even loves them; he likes authority – policemen make him feel happy; he feels safe if he sees a string of red cars in one day, but can’t understand emotions, is utterly foxed by metaphors, doesn’t ‘do’ jokes and cannot bear physical contact.

The story he tells is a simple one, though its ramifications are enormous. It’s the account of the events triggered by his discovery of the neighbour’s dog, dead in the night with a garden fork in its side, which allows him to unravel some of the truth about his own family and his part in that story. Following the principles gleaned from his careful reading of Conan Doyle, his determined detective work leads him into situations which baffle him.

In Mark Haddon’s hands, Christopher’s story is compassionate without being sentimental. By seeing things through Christopher’s eyes, Haddon tests much that we so easily take for granted. The result is that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time more than fulfils the promise of its splendidly intriguing title and makes itself a captivating winner of the Guardian children’s fiction prize.

  • Julia Eccleshare, chair of judges and children’s books editor of the Guardian