Boy A by Jonathan Trigell was first published in 2004 but reissued this year as being filmed for Channel 4. Despite its title, it is not of the “I had an awful childhood but survived so that you could feel good” genre. It’s a fictional account of Jack (Boy A) and the events that lead up to and from his release from prison on license. He was a child murder of a child…or was he? Think of the 10 year old child murders of James Bulger in 1993 and the consequences should one of them try and rehabilitate back into society as adults. The crime paid for…but can the murder of an innocent ever be paid for? Is revenge more important then justice or forgiveness?
This is not a fractional account of what if, rather it explores the notion of what is evil and that love need actions for it to be love. However, it does this not by heavy moralizing and cut out figures that act as pegs for this or that idea. But is a post modernist novel in that we jump into other characters heads, and go up and down time over 26 chapters that follow the alphabet. But fear not, you don’t have to rush back to your Agatha Christie as this creates a sense of foreboding and suspense.
During the course of the story we get inside Jack’s head as he struggles to understand the world he has not seen since he was 10, and adjust to having a best friend (Chris) and even a girlfriend (Mitchell). But all the time his secret holds him back so he can never be truthful, never real with them. He is helped by his probationary officer (Terry), who genuinely cares for him and stands by him but at the expense of his own son’s welfare with tragic consequences. In and out of this story we also find out what Boy A and Boy B did and the if’s and what’s of Boy A’s deeds. We also see the consequences of parents not caring for their child and the indifferences of schools to bullying. But also us , the general public, and our responses to cases like this and the newspaper campaigns we support that forget the child and man as we become a lynch mob.
I found it a genuine page turner from the first few sentences that grips you with an urgency of trying to discover who and what the betrayal will be. Its short sentences, switches in time and character move the story along so that in the end you have to try and deicide if it’s a battle of Evil versus Good. Or is it the battle that each of us face in tying to relate to others in love?
So would I recommend it? Well if you want cloying sentimentality, or a morality of black and white this is not the book for you. But if you want one that explores moral ambiguity and what love if not explored honesty leads to, then this is the book for you.