Review Blog

Nov 23 2010

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

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Allen and Unwin, 2009. ISBN 978 1 74212 370 7
Louis Braille Audio, 2010. 11 CDs, 13 hours. Read by Humphrey Bower
Highly recommended. Hearing someone calling him through his louvred bedroom window, Charlie climbs out and discovers the boy that parents warn against, a boy who roams the streets, with an alcoholic father and Aboriginal mother, an outcast in this small community, except for when he plays football. But Charlie does follow him and is taken to the most appalling sight he has ever seen, a dead girl hanging from a tree in a spot everyone knows is Jasper's private place.
Together the boys work out some sort of plan, hoping to uncover the killer before the police come for Jasper, knowing full well that if this happens, Jasper will end his days in jail.
Isolated Charlie faithfully records the hypocrisies of life in mid twentieth century Australia, but does not intervene when Vietnamese Jeffery, his best friend, is taunted and abused, or Jasper is beaten up, or Eliza is vilified by the ogling boys in the cricket team. Examples of killers abound as Charlie reads of the trials of Eric Cooke with the hair lip killing women in Perth in the 1960's or the horrific murder of Sylvia Likens in the USA in 1965, and later the disappearance of the Beaumont children in South Australia in the 1960's.  These form a disturbing backdrop the story of the death of Laura Wishart that is gripping and intriguing, leading us on until we know the whole shocking truth of this small country town.
The reading by Humphrey Bower is intoxicating. His voice takes on the innocence and fear of a young boy caught up in an incident beyond his experience and years. The two boys are contrasted extremely well, Bower's voice having a degree of unsettledness which denotes Charlie's shock at what is happening around him. Bower is able to easily identify for us the different characters, and the modulation and intensity of his voice grabs the readers' attention as the story progresses. The deliberate pace underlines the laconic nature of the Australian character and the range of characters is delineated by a change of tone rather than the use of stereotypical accents.
This is a disturbing story that resonates with moral questions, ambiguity and the notion of right and wrong. There is no black or white answer, but the subtlety of the story and its consequences will intrigue and provoke discussion.
Fran Knight

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