AS IF by Blake Morrison

AS IF

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Literary journalist Morrison's reportage of the infamous 1993 child-murder of James Bulger turns into a semi-confessional meditation on illusory childhood innocence and collective guilt. After his revealing and moving patrimonial memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1995), Morrison moves to murkier ground as he covers the trial of ten-year-old murderers Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. The British trial of the century was supposed to answer the question of why as well as how the pair abducted a two-year-old from a shopping center and killed him after a day of wandering around Liverpool. Reporting for the New Yorker, Morrison is dubious from the outset about the trial--charging the two as adults for murder, the conduct of the police and social services, the legal question of doli incapax, i.e., moral unawareness, and the barely contained public spectacle. Although Morrison was allowed to attend the court proceedings throughout, he does not have much of substance to impart to readers, either about the investigation and evidence or the character of the children and parents involved; the lingering questions about the pair's motives and possible abuse by their own families linger still at book's end. Baffled by the enormity of this crime, Morrison stops trying to re-create the circumstances in his imagination and begins to examine his own conscience about parenthood and childhood. The literary-confessional dimension of As If, occasionally hampered by pretentious allusions, includes his mullings over his experiences of pre-teen sex and a deftly ambiguous description of putting his infant daughter to bed--which, if read from a different angle, could make Humbert blush. A candid challenge to John Major's hardened pronouncement on juvenile crime, ""We must condemn a little more, and understand a little less,"" but with mixed results in the end.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Picador/St. Martin's