My book club’s final novel for the year is Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey.
His first novel was Rhubarb, published in 2004. For that he won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Novelist award. Jasper Jones, his second novel, won the Indie Book of the Year Award in 2009, and was listed for a swag of others, including being on the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Award in 2010.
And so it was with high expectations that I commenced reading.
I loved Silvey’s writing style which was packed with imagery and almost poetic at times.
And I believe if it were anyone else, I would choose to step back and turn away right now. I would never bow my head and push through that wattle, and its golden orbs would never shake loose and nestle in my hair like confetti.
I loved the characters too. The main character, 13 year old Charlie, and his best friend, Jeffrey are well drawn. The banter between the boys is very entertaining.
There were moments when, viewing the world through Charlie’s eyes, I remembered with a pang of nostalgia what my own childhood was like. How big, exciting and full of possibility the world seemed and how mysterious and exciting the night was. Somewhere along the way, I lost that sense of wonder. I enjoyed remembering when, roaming the streets of my neighbourhood with friends after dark that I felt like Charlie did:
… there is something emboldening about being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping. Like I know something they don’t.
The novel is described as a coming of age story, and reading it, it did seem targeted at an adolescent audience. There was a certain simplicity to the characters – while I found myself caring for them all, they seemed to lack some complexity. The various threads of the story all resolved themselves a little too neatly as well. Having read other reviews, I know that bothered some readers, but I didn’t mind. It was enjoyable to read a novel where things ended the way you wanted them to end. The characters were likeable enough and it was satisfying to see them overcome their various adversities.
There were various threads to the story. The central plot concerning Charlie and Jasper’s discovery of a body and their attempts to discover the murderer. This particular storyline was a little hard to believe. Charlie’s actions seemed very out of character for me. Nevertheless, I found the mystery intriguing, and wanted to keep reading to find out what had happened.
It was the other story lines that really kept me interested. There was the gradually revealed story of Jasper Jones,half Aboriginal and viewed as a delinquent by the local community. He was an outcast who had suffered many cruel injustices. There was the story of Charlie’s talented, cricket mad friend, Jeffrey Lu who persisted in following his dreams in spite of the racist cricket coach and team, who would not let him play. There was also the story of Jeffrey’s family, from Vietnam, and the humiliations they would suffer at the hands of locals, angry about the Vietnam War. And then there was Charlie’s own dysfunctional family – his gentle father and his frustrated mother.
Every story line seemed to be about revelation. Just as the pristine surface of the dam hid the dead body of Laura Wishart that Charlie encountered in the first chapter, the quiet and respectable town characters hid many crimes.
In some ways it was all too contrived. Each character who was initially painted as dark or dangerous was revealed as good, but misunderstood. The weak characters were revealed as strong, and the respectable, of course, hid dark secrets.
Yet I found I could easily forgive this. Real life isn’t neat and tidy, the good don’t always win and bad folks get away with things. It’s nice to read a novel where everything works out the way it should.