Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey Reviewed by Josh Bell
‘Jasper Jones’, written by Craig Silvey and published by Allen and Unwin, is without doubt one of the best novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading. With sheer mastery of the English language, Craig Silvey effortlessly brings to life a myriad of beautifully crafted characters and settings, ensnaring the audience in the dark and dusty beauty of an Australian country town.
‘Jasper Jones’ follows the tale of Charlie Bucktin, whose entire life and way of thinking is tossed aside one night when Jasper Jones, the town hooligan, shows up at his bedroom window and shares a terrible secret with him.
Haunted by problems no child should face, Charlie manages to simultaneously battle the challenges of growing up as he watches his parents’ marriage fall apart, his best friend rise above a racist town and the girl of his dreams look past his skinny frame and glasses and return his feelings for her.
This may sound like a tried and tested plot, and one that isn’t particularly original, but the trick with this book isn’t in its idea, it’s in its delivery. Silvey’s gorgeously crafted masterpiece draws the audience in, setting the reader upon a rollercoaster ride of emotions that leaves them questioning their own perception of life afterwards. Silvey’s conveyance of the fact of death, loss, divorce and love are so moving and true to life that you cannot help but begin to feel that you yourself are being put through these experiences.
Not only is this book beautifully crafted, but it’s hilarious. The banter between Charlie and his best friend Jeffrey Lu is witty, sharp and outrageously obscene. I’ve never come across a more accurate account of what it is to be a best friend, to laugh, cry and shout over everything and to make the best of every opportunity of insult.
Jasper Jones, the namesake of the novel, is rarely seen, but a constant presence. The mystery behind the dark events at the start of the book almost take a backseat throughout the middle of the novel, and this is used to show Charlie that real life is just as difficult to process as any murder or crime. As Charlie struggles through the reality of death, we see that marriage problems, racism and love are just as difficult and heartbreaking.
Without doubt, ‘Jasper Jones’ is an extremely emotional journey, and an incredibly well-crafted novel. Some have likened it to Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and while it is a coming of age story, I believe it is different in many respects. ‘Jasper Jones’ is a more personal and familiar journey, whereas ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a much more distanced examination of society. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the narrator in ‘Jasper Jones’ is explaining things to the reader as they happen and as he experiences them, whereas the narrator in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ relates her experiences as a child much later on in her life. Needless to say, I believe that Jasper Jones is just as deep as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ on many levels.
Keeping in mind that ‘Jasper Jones’ touches on some very deep themes, it is definitely not a novel for younger readers. This novel is an extremely emotional experience, and written with the skill and poise relative to that of a master writer. I finished this book with the familiar feeling of emptiness in my stomach that marks a good book. You know a book is good when you dread the ending simply because the ending means leaving a beautiful and intriguing world for the mundane reality of life. Without doubt this is within my top 5 novels, I recommend it to anyone, but keep in mind that it covers some very adult themes, so it is not a book for children.
I rate this book at 10/10.
If you are interested in reading about Craig Silvey’s writing process for this book from the author himself, click here.