Sunday, 3 February 2013

Book Notes: "Jasper Jones" by Craig Silvey

Jasper JonesJasper Jones by Craig Silvey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I usually would not read fiction of this variety but my hand was forced by circumstances. Nonetheless, the critics’ reviews had me anticipating a novel which explores Australia’s deep-seated racist culture in such a way as to put Silvey in the same league as the American Harper Lee. Lee wrote about the racism she observed as a child and I was expecting something similarly honest from Silvey. Instead, a lazy combination of artist and critic that would have bewildered Oscar Wilde left me with a potentially good read, including some brilliant teenage dialogue, which otherwise lacks credibility. The lazy combination began with the critic who obviously didn’t read the entire book and instead simply regurgitated Silvey’s own references to Harper Lee and Mark Twain. This was off-putting as it smacks of the cultural cringe which sits comfortably with racism as a form of illogical behaviour so prevalent in Australian society. Silvey writes well and parts of the story had me racing ahead to find out what happened next, but it also left me confused. The first half of the book reads like a set-text for high school English (much like “To Kill a Mockingbird”) while the second-half suddenly jolts into racism, teenage sex, child sexual abuse, adultery, and the emptiness and boredom of living in a small Australian mining town. When viewed in isolation, this might be seen as a jolting technique to break away from the set-text model. Hopefully teachers will not be as lazy as the critic and will read the entire novel before setting the text for younger students. Yet endlessly painful anachronisms signify the author’s lack of historical knowledge and keep rearing their ugly heads throughout the story, leaving the reader begging for an honest word from Hemingway rather than another distraction from Silvey. To be sure, fiction is made-up, but researching the setting and the context properly adds credibility and ensures the reading of fiction is not an intellectual insult. Despite the accolades and the awards for “Jasper Jones”, I give Silvey a credit grade for a well-written piece of work that suffers from too many themes, too many anachronisms and a lack of credibility that ultimately stems from lazy research.



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