'The tapes wind on, ushering James away past Mothercare, past his mother's care, beyond the care of all the world. The tapes have played in court, on television, in all our heads. What is it that's so distressing about them? The wateriness, like early Disney or a home cine, the quivering old 8mm. The boys jerky as puppets. The mucky colour (because the lenses were mucky), the soupy black and white. The silence under the whirr, as if in need of commentary: "Here's James walking, and the big lad's got his hand." The pain of seeing what Denise couldn't see at the time. History frozen at 15:42:32. Knowing what will happen. Being planted in this moment before it did happen, when it wouldn't have been too late to stop it. You don't often see kidnaps and killings, in life. There aren't the cameras there to catch them. But here's one unfolding before our eyes. And nothing we can do.'
I don't see 'As If' as a five star reading experience from an aesthetic point of view. It was by no means an enjoyable reading experience but the many ways it ignited my moral outrage and caused me to re-examine my prejudices makes it worthy of a five star review. I can imagine this would be a fascinating text to examine within the classroom or reading group. There are a lot of negative reviews about the Blake Morrison's presence within the text, but I feel that this is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Those who go into this book thinking they will find a sensationalist true crime book full of details of crime scenes and lurid details are likely to be disappointed. Though the court transcripts are detailed enough, and the timeline of events is covered, these are not things that the author feels the need to dwell on, besides to open avenues of introspective thought. One of the early chapters in which Morrison walks the same steps as Jon, Robert, and Jamie Bulger was deeply unsettling, and I'm not sure what more people would want to read about. I work in a related field but I still found these passages very hard going.
There is perhaps a valid argument that insufficient time was spent within the text on Jamie Bulger and his family, though I would argue that Morrison was choosing to be respectfully distant in opting not to interview families.
The subject matter is very difficult to work through, whether one has children of their own or not. The author was hired by New Yorker magazine to write 10,000 words on the case, and in the aftermath felt that he hadn't really given the story justice. 'As If' is the end product (though the original title, 'The Worst Thing I Ever Did,' is more appropriate, I feel). Fixated almost entirely on the search for the WHY answers, the book isn't as much an external piece of investigative journalism (you can't find answers where there aren't any) but more an internal piece of soul searching. Is the capacity to do harm present in all of us? If an 'evil' act is committed by a child is that act more or less 'evil' than if committed by an adult? How can you determine whether children, natural fantasists and liars, prone to flights of fancy, less aware of consequences, shaped by experience and emotional disturbance, how can we say with any certainty that their actions are 'evil'?
Morrison brings his own family and experience into the text, which is where I see a lot of people seem to switch off, but I feel largely this is because people went in thinking this would be a different kind of book. The writing is deeply empathetic, and to derive empathy is to see similarities between yourself and others. That's not to say that to empathise with a child killer you have to BE a child killer, just that perhaps it's so important to try and come to terms with, to understand, what makes two very disturbed ten year old boys - children - skip school, go shoplifting, then beat a two year old to death with bricks on a desolate stretch of railway. The implications are far reaching, especially in consideration of early intervention, rehabilitation, preventative measures, planning and delivery of future public services. If you think that prevention is better than the cure, I think you will find some important talking points within this text.
This was not the first true crime work of Morrison's I read. The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper is a fantastic poem of considerable length, written in West Yorkshire dialect and is a very powerful mediation on gender roles and violence against women. I would highly recommend it if people would like to consider similar subject matters from a different angle, and whether you enjoyed 'As If' or not.