Review | Tuesday 28 April 2009
Craig Silvey’s much-awaited second novel is very different from the elegiac Rhubarb – but it’s every bit as good, if not better. And, like Rhubarb’s play on the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby, with its blind, achingly lonely protagonist of the same name, Jasper Jones draws on a range of literary and pop culture references, from Mark Twain and To Kill a Mockingbird to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.
It’s a riveting tale, set in 1960s small-town Australia, about a young, bookish adolescent who is drawn into events surrounding the grim disappearance of a local girl when the solitary Jasper Jones, a rebellious mixed-race older boy (in the town’s eyes, ‘a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant’) comes asking for his help. Alongside the mystery of the missing girl is a forensic examination of the small town of Corrigan, a place beset by undercurrents of racism and fear of the unknown.
‘I think Jasper Jones speaks the truth in a community of liars,’ says Charlie. Indeed, nearly everyone here has something to hide, including Charlie’s father, an Atticus Finch doppelganger who believes books are the font of all wisdom (especially Mark Twain), and his caustic, unhappy mother, whose glare ‘could make a eunuch out of Errol Flynn’. Some of the most gripping sequences involve Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey Lu and his family, Vietnamese refugees who bear the brunt of burgeoning anger about the war. Deeply thoughtful, remarkably funny and playful, this is a gloriously Australian book about outsiders and secrets (both ordinary and extraordinary).