It’s impossible to read Boy A by Jonathan Trigell and not think of the events surrounding the murder of James Bulger, although the crime itself differs, much of the public and press reaction is intentionally, eerily similar.
From the start of this thought-provoking tale, you just know it it’s not going to end well. A sense of relentless foreboding emanates from each chapter.
Jack, at the age of 24, has just been released from prison. Found guilty of a heinous crime as a child, and having spent most of the last 15 years serving his time in various institutions, Jack must shed his old identity, that of “Boy A” and make his way and a new life in the outside world.
The story unfolds by telling two stories, that of, Jack, good friend, lover, and work mate, who looks at his new life with wide-eyed wonder, and that of “Boy A” told by slowly dripping fact by fact, the events in his life that lead up to the crime itself. His culpability in the crime is never in question, but as we learn more and more of these events his actual “guilt” is left ambiguous.
You can’t help but like the man, Jack has become, a man who cares deeply for the few people he has in his life, his friends, his girlfriend, his Uncle Terry (who is, in fact his case worker and a man Jack considers to be almost a surrogate father).
However, life isn’t going to let Jack have a happy ending, and when the inevitable happens and Jack’s secret past is revealed, and he is seemingly abandoned by all those around him, Jack is left to make a decision on his own, a decision which can only have a tragic outcome.
Trigell, wanted to write a novel that made the reader consider the surrounding events, more than the crime itself. Society’s response, the effectiveness of the prison system, the effects of the “tabloid” press, and he succeeds brilliantly, this is a novel that will stay with me for quite some time.
Warning note: There is a quite explicit chapter, which follows Jack’s father set in a Bangkok strip bar, that for me was unnecessary, however it did illustrate very well, the emptiness in this man’s existence, as he too, has had to move away and start anew.
Boy A won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best debut novel (2005) and the Waverton Good Read Award (2004).