There’s no disputing the good writing and deserved bestsellerdom of books like Gone, Girl and Girl on a Train, just as there is no disputing the good writing and deserved bestsellerdom of Australian fiction that conjures comparison with these international blockbusters.
I recently waxed lyrical over Emily McGuire’s An Isolated Incident (run the search on this site), and I unequivocally wax the same lyricism for Jane Jago’s THE WRONG HAND.
This is a strong meat story of juvenile homicide, the taking of a young male life by two other young males. Based on the James Bulger case, Jago has written an absorbing narrative of the families affected, and the fate of both victims and the perpetrators.
In court Doli incapax was argued – incapable of malice – so the two boys were placed in protective custody, an incarceration to protect society from the perpetrators, and the perpetrators from society. Years later they are given new names, new identities and relocated to begin afresh.
Using the device of self-insertion in the guise of journalist, Alex Reiser, THE WRONG HAND is Jago’s examination of the pathology of the crime and its punishment and the physical and psychological ripples and repercussions endured by all parties.
Reiser had grown jaded with modern reporting, –“Journalism had devolved into the kind of energetic fluff that snuck its way out of the advertorial section and crawled on its belly over to arts and lifestyle….Increasingly he craved the freedom of fiction. Move the furniture around, take the reader by surprise, turn out the lights, let them bump into the chairs, feel along the walls, and find their own way out. Fiction was the answer.”
The device of Reiser researching his novel allows Jago to imagine the plight of the perpetrator and the survivors of the victim. Vexed questions about vengeance, vigilantism, forgiveness are given careful consideration.
A vile torture and killing of a kitten by the juvenile murderers preempts their slaughter of the innocent and prompts Jago to muse “that Graham and Danny are two halves of the same aberration, who, on their own would never have brought themselves to commit such brutality, was a far more complex psychological puzzle to contemplate.
“In a world full of iniquity there are lots of Dannys and lots of Grahams. Sometimes they find each other. Killing was primal. Not killing was a product of an amygdala-friendly environment and a complex web of social conditioning. Born innocent perhaps, but also without the ability to reject, contain or suppress their instinctual reactions, impulses and curiosity. A conscience was developed over time. The mistake was in believing they were not capable of such things.”
Moot points are made about rehabilitation and the concept of relocation and identity reinvention. “Childhood violence seemed to cross national and social boundaries; the reaction to it was very much influenced by context and culture. Some countries, Scandinavia for instance, argue that violent juveniles need compassion and must be treated as children, shown kindness and concern rather than vengeance, their deeds a collective tragedy, not a crime.”
Many argue that the victim is the forgotten one when it comes to justice, not to mention the unimaginable grief visited on the parents of slain offspring.
“Any bereaved mother, in her unreachable grief, has some refuge at the bottom of the well of sadness where her heartbreak and memories of her child can wash over her…for mothers like Rachel, parents of the murdered and defiled, the pit was full of snakes…one woman’s agony is another’s peep show.”
THE WRONG HAND is a sure handed, clear minded novel of the moral corrosion spawned by the belief that oneself is not only unloved but unlovable.
THE WRONG HAND by Jane Jago is published by Penguin Michael Joseph UK.