Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 25, 2010

Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey #BookReview

I knew I wasn’t going to like this book when I saw the cover art, and my forebodings were confirmed as soon as I read the first few lines.  By the obligatory first 50 pages I was completely convinced I had wasted my $24.95 and I had to force myself to finish it by taking it on a day trip to the Gold Coast with nothing else to read on the plane.

The plot is inane and completely unconvincing, and nearly 300 pages of what passes for adolescent wit is beyond tedious.

Heaven only knows how it made its way onto the Miles Franklin shortlist…

Plenty of other people like it.  See Aussie Reviews , Readings, and The Monthly (a pale shadow of its former self these days, alas).  Oh, and the Courier Mail says it’s going to be made into a film.

So it doesn’t need any more publicity from me – and I’d rather read another book than spend any more of my time on it.

Update (the next day, see comments below)

Here’s the link to my good friend Sue’s much more generous review.

Update 15.4.12

This post is constantly visited – mostly by young readers looking for some help with a school assignment if their badly-spelled insults are anything to go by.  (Read my review and comments policy, be polite, and I’ll publish your outraged remarks instead of deleting them.  I may even take the time to fix your spelling and punctuation mistakes for you, if you express the reasons why you love this book and why you think I’m wrong, without being rude.)

Anyway,  to help you with your assignment, here’s a review from someone else who didn’t like the book, and he explains why not, in detail.  Hint: The best essays, the ones that get the highest marks, are the ones that are original, and look at things from different points-of-view.

Author: Craig Silvey
Title: Jasper Jones
Publisher; Allen and Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741757743
Source: Personal Library, purchased from Readings $24.95

Fishpond: Jasper Jones


  1. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like it. I think it was brave of you to take it on a plane without anything else to do. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that, if I knew I was going to dislike it.

    • Hello Iris:)
      I wouldn’t ordinarily have finished it, but – well – it was on the shortlist, and I felt I had to make the effort.
      But if I’d only been able to open a window…
      Lisa *grin*
      PS I *love* the header on your blog! Irises are such beautiful flowers!

  2. I too try and hang on with the books I read, and sometimes I regret the time wasted. Life’s too short for bad books.

    That said, I have to comment on the prize list thing. I tried Herta Muller’s Nobel prize winning novel-The Passport and gave up. Perhaps it was a matter of translation, but I always seem to have better luck with the prize losers.

    • Hello, Guy, thanks for joining in the conversation:)
      It’s a tricky thing deciding whether to go on with a book. Life is short, and there are many treasures yet to read, but sometimes a book can redeem itself along the way after an indifferent start. I felt I owed it to this one because it’s on our ANZLL schedule for this year and on the Miles Franklin shortlist and the zeitgeist was sending mixed messages about it.
      I have yet to try anything by Herta Muller: I’m waiting to see what my favourite bloggers suggest would be a good one to start with, and I have quite a few Nobel winners in translation ahead of her on the TBR and I want to read more of European literature in general so that I have a better idea of the literature traditions she’s coming from. (See

  3. Oh dear Lisa! I didn’t think it was *that* bad. I don’t think coming-of-age novels are your thing are they! I liked the relationship between the boys – as I wrote on my own post on it several months ago – but I did think it got way too melodramatic. It was interesting that he chose the 1960s, before his own time, to set it.

    • Oh Sue, I am stung, cut-to-the-quick LOL! I *do* like coming-of-age novels! Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career, just for a start, and she would be turning in her grave if she could see the travesty her award has become this year!
      Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Room with a View, Sons and Lovers, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Atonement, The Story of Lucy Gault, The World Beneath, The French Tutor, The Umbrella Club, The Rainy Season….
      And that’s not including bildungsroman that are about belated growth of maturity like The Good Parents or Life in Seven Mistakes or The China Garden.

  4. Sorry that you didn’t like it Lisa. I absolutely loved it. Zombie cheeses still cracks me up.

  5. LOL Louise, you mean you thought it was a spoof??
    Did I miss something?

  6. There have been some novels I’ve forced myself to stick with and then by the end of the game, I’m happy to have done so.

    I read quite a bit of stuff in translation. Currently working my way through Zola’s 20 volume Rougon-Macquart cycle.

  7. I’m going to get to Zola one day. Right now I’m reading Les Miserables, and on-and-off, Balzac’s Comedie Humaine.

  8. You post provoked some interesting comments!

    Unlike Guy, I bail out of a book I really don’t get on with. Life is too short – however, when I’ve paid good money for it it might be a different matter. I’m sure you’ll be happier with Balzac – I’m about to start Pere Goriot

  9. It’s a perennial issue, eh? Reading is a matter of personal taste, and all of us have to make decisions at some time about whether or not to persist with something we don’t like.
    The thing is, like most readers I suppose, I take some guidance from others about what’s worth reading. (Your blog, for example, Tom!)
    I think it’s a reasonable expectation that books nominated for Australia’s most prestigious prize are worth reading for one reason or another – even if e.g. Sons of the Rumour or The Bath Fugues are not to a reader’s taste, no one could quarrel with the nomination because they’re brilliant writing. But this year’s MF judges’ excursion into the sort of genre fiction we find at the airport encouraged me to continue reading these books in the hope that it would be worth my while in the end – and I’m mighty peeved that it wasn’t…
    I’m not going to resile from my position that nominations for the MF should be *literary* fiction because I don’t believe that the terms of Miles Franklin’s Will should be jettisoned. None of us have the right to interfere with the terms of someone else’s bequest. The winners don’t have to be obscure or lofty or erudite, but they should IMO have to offer a certain standard of *literary* writing.

  10. hehehe, I knew you wouldn’t like this one.

  11. Woops… didn’t finish my comment… I meant to add that I didn’t much like this one either. The writing to me felt forced and baggy. The banter between the two boys was the only thing that kept me reading. But honestly how this one made the shortlist is beyond me. I keep putting off writing my own review, but at some point this week I am going to have to bite the bullet and do it.

  12. Hi Kim, I’ll be watching out for it LOL.

  13. Hi Lisa – it will make our discussion on ANZLitLovers interesting if you really didn’t like it then! I haven’t read it yet – I will save it until closer to the date. Interestingly though – Cathy loved it (gulp – I gave it to her as a present last year) but a friend I lent it to who has similar tastes to me, eventually gave it back saying she just couldn’t finish it! I think she felt the same as you. I will reserve judgement!

  14. Hi Kate
    Sometimes I think our best discussions are when there is divergent opinion about a book; it’s so much more fun than when we all agree!

  15. *snip* rude remarks removed by Lisa *snip*
    It would be more edifying to give a reasoned discussion about your reasons for hating this book
    Yes, the book was beset with annoying anachronisms, undeniably derivative, did have a tendancy to overly purple phrases and didn’t really need two epilogues.
    Yes, there were some fairly glaring plot holes and a little too obvious foreshadowing, but I feel the steadier hand of a better editor would have ironed out these issues well.
    Silvey is a very young author and shows some true talent with his writing, even flashes of brilliance with some of his imagery. I thought, for example, his “roulette ball” simile towards the end of the book to be amazingly original and moving. I found his characterizations believable and sympathetic, his pacing superb.
    Although Jasper Jones may be an imperfect book, there’s plenty to like about this author and his writing. With a better editor, I think he’s only a half step or so behind the front line Australian authors, and needs a bit of encouragement.

    • Hello Todd, thank you for sharing your opinion.
      Firstly, please be aware that I’m not being employed to write this blog, I do it in my spare time. I choose to spend my spare time writing enthusiastically about books I like.
      Secondly, Jasper Jones is shortlisted for our most prestigious prize so I think it can withstand some comment from readers who don’t care for it.
      As I say in my Comments Policy, if I don’t like a book I say so, but I try to find other more positive reviews. I did that.
      I gave my reasons (paragraph 2).
      I don’t know who you mean by our ‘front line authors’…perhaps he is ‘half a step behind’ if you mean authors of popular fiction or YA, but surely not David Malouf, Kate Grenville, Brian Castro, Alex Miller, Steven Conte, Geraldine Brooks, Richard Flanagan, Murray Bail, Andrea Goldsmith, Susan Johnson, Christopher Koch, Stephen Carroll, Nerida Newton, Marion Halligan, Louis Nowra, Janet Turner Hospital, Charlotte Wood, Matthew Condon et al?
      PS He’s not ‘very young’, he’s 28.

  16. I am so pleased to have found this blog which came up when I googled “does anyone else think Jasper Jones is a crappy novel?”. I too wanted my $24.95 back but more importantly the last precious couple of days of my term break which were wasted because I kept hoping it would get better. I thought, this novel surely has to improve, how could it win such accolades and be so weak? Just one small plug, I reckon Liam Davison should be included on your list of “front line authors” (only a little biased).

    • I know what you mean, Catherine, it’s the loss of the time on something not worthwhile that matters as much as the money!
      Now, I have to confess that I’ve never read Liam Davison (who I suspect may be a beloved one to you and not just a front line author LOL).
      I’ve found him on WIkipedia, and I like what it says about his ‘sharp and perceptive insights into Australian history and landscape’ – but which book do you think I should track down first?
      Update, on a sombre note: Liam Davison (1957-2014) was a very fine Australian writer. He and his wife Frankie were victims of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight which was shot down  over disputed territory in Ukraine. In tribute, I sourced, and then read and reviewed his published novels, and you can find them here:

  17. I couldn’t believe this book. Absolutely awful as a novel. Yes some of the dialogue between Charlie and Henry (?…see how forgettable? I finished it this afternoon) was funny and an original voice was evident in parts BUT, it’s no Miles Franklin contender unless sadly literary fiction is no longer a criteria. Jasper Jones himself was no hero, Eliza Wishart was no kind of sister and Charlie Bucktin let the side down in the end. An Australian To Kill a Mockingbird??? Ridiculous comparison.

  18. Hello Margaret, thanks for your comment:)
    I still haven’t got over my disappointment that this book was shortlisted at the expense of other more worthy books – but that the judges compounded the dumbing down of this award by choosing a *crime* novel for the eventual winner still makes me very cross indeed.

  19. Hi Lisa, I don’t read complete shortlists for novels in contention for awards but I have an expectation that the Miles Franklin Literary Award keeps Australian fiction right up there at world standards like the Pulitzer (having recently read Olive Kitteridge, that is a brilliant piece of writing for a reader who is interested in reading about character and emotional truth, my primary reason for reading).
    I looked at the Miles Franklin winners to see what I HAD read over the years and found I have read only 5, My Brother Jack, The Great World, Cloudstreet, The Hand That Signed the Paper (!!! mmm), and The Great Fire. As controversial as one of those became, the rest are wonderful Australian fiction and Malouf’s The Great World stands tallest of all. That’s why I just can’t fathom Jasper Jones making the shortlist, however entertaining it may be for its target audience. I would not have read it if it were not for the fact that it will be discussed alongside To Kill a Mockingbird at the Ex Libris book festival next weekend in a Big Book Club venue. I know which of those 2 books will stand the test of time and it is not the one shortlisted for the Miles Franklin LITERARY award.
    P.S. I have only read Temple’s The Broken Shore, which despite an OTT florid ending was pretty good. I don’t object to genre novels winning awards.

  20. I think you’re right, Margaret. The winner ought to be world class, and works that will stand the test of time. And JJ isn’t.

    • Hello again Lisa. I need to something more about JJ before I put it to rest. I don’t think the reviewer who said that it was an Australian TKAM did it a service (in the non-commercial sense anyway).
      It isn’t a very good book but I grant that it’s written by a talented writer. It needed a hard edit such as the one that Walter McVitty apparently gave So Much to Tell You by John Marsden when he was an emerging writer.
      I felt quite heartened that the panel on the discussion I attended were not greatly impressed by JJ, as I could see how popular it has been and felt like a bit of a naysayer not to join in on that wave of enthusiasm.
      I like coming of age stories. Peter Goldsworthy’s Everything I Knew is set in the same era, in the country (Penola S.A.), and features a friendship between an aboriginal boy and the main teenage protagonist. It’s very provocative, but it’s not a YA book which JJ most definitely is. But Jane Gardam has written several coming of age stories that I really love, two that come to mind are Bilgewater and A Long Way from Verona. Then there’s Harriet the Spy (although Harriet still has a way to go at the end, as it features an 11 year old who lives in New York). But she learns so much about the adult world, and I think that’s a big attraction for adults who enjoy ‘bildungsroman’ novels. They are transported back to the time when the lightbulb comes on… we are powerful and adults are flawed.

  21. Oh yes, I shouldn’t have omitted Everything I Knew from my list of coming-of-age novels – I thought it was a fine book – but I don’t know those two by Jane Gardam – I’ve only read Old Filth…
    You are so right about the editing. At the Louise Doughty workshop I went to at the MWF she said that nobody really gets edited any more – and I see that being more and more of a problem for young writers. How can they learn their craft if there’s no professional help when they need it?

  22. […] Craig Silvey (Jasper Jones) (see my review) […]

  23. I’m so tired of hearing the old chestnut about nobody getting edited any more. It’s just patently not true. If you could see the endless back and forth that goes on between writers and editors, the many many hours spent on shaping a book after acceptance, I think you’d be surprised.

    I also think Jasper Jones is an excellent book, so it seems we have many points of difference. Just shortlisted for the IMPAC, too, I see.

    • OK, ok, so hours may be spent editing. If the end product is what we get after hours of work shaping it, goodness only knows what it was like beforehand. But bad grammar, clumsy sentence construction, cliches and spelling errors are commonplace now, and so there are only two conclusions one can come to. Either the work wasn’t edited enough for one reason or another, or else it was edited badly by someone incompetent. Of the two, the former is actually more charitable.
      And yes, yes, I know JJ has been shortlisted for the IMPAC. We live in a world where stuff like this gets shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award too, and I suppose it won’t be long before Dan Brown gets a Nobel Prize for literature.

      • Well said. An excellent riposte. Jasper Jones was edited badly no doubt about that.

  24. JJ for the IMPAC…I feel like the book I read must have been completely different to the one getting nominated for all of these awards. Lisa, I know you loathed this book. I’m not quite so negative about it – it was a lazy book written for the mass market, but no matter how much that mightn’t be my thing I can recognise that people read for various motivations. What I can’t abide (and what has been said before, but let’s say it again for incredulity’s sake) is that this book is being marketed/sold as “Literature” (with a capital “L”, which it most blatantly is not), and what’s more, is being recognised as such by supposedly informed judging panels. The only other possibility is that both you and I aren’t the readers we thought we were, but I for one am standing by my guns…

    • Ola Troy! I just read your lovely review of True Country on GR last night, what a pleasure it is to read your reviews there:)
      We are of one mind. I don’t have any problem with mass market books, and may even feel a mild sense of gratitude if they help to subsidise the publication of less popular works. But every book on the shortlist has squeezed out some other book, and there will be people who buy the shortlisted books because they’re relying on the judges to help them choose wisely from the plethora of print that’s out there.
      And if they’re readers like us, they’ll be disappointed.

      • Amen to that!

        Thanks for the kind words re: True Country article. That Dead Man Dance is next in my sights…

  25. I have just realised I’ve wasted my money too! I had a sneaking suspicion around page 4. I think I’ll force myself to get through it. What keeps taking me out of the book is the comments/thoughts well beyond their years that keep coming from these “kids”. Not that teenagers are stupid or not insightful. Plus it’s too To Kill A Mockingbird-derivative. Also I think you’re right re the editing. To me there’s a lot of over-writing. “Just move on already!” I keep thinking to myself.

    • Hi Katie, it’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book!

  26. God I hated this book. My book group chose it and I forced myself to read it. Derivative, melodramatic, cliched, dreadful dialogue. I vaguely remember the sixties, and I can assure you no-one used the word ‘wager’ or ‘draught’, as in “he took a draught of his cigarette”. How many times did Charlie and Jeffrey call one another ‘idiots’? Did anyone edit this book? Silvey has talent, no doubt – he occasionally writes great and vivid imagery, but this novel looked like a rushed first draft.

    • Hello Rebecca, and welcome to chatting about books on ANZ LitLovers. One of the things I like about the interactive web is that there’s a range of voices in the conversation. When all there was, was the newspaper reviews, there was no way for other readers to challenge the ‘orthodox’ review, and there are books like this one which are love-it-ot-hate-it kind of book!
      But I’m pleased to see that you agree that Silvey has talent. It will be interesting to see whether he decides to stick with uncritical popular fiction or aim for something better.

  27. Hi Lisa, I’m a bit late for this thread but just finished reading Jasper Jones because our book club chose it, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Like you and others, I’m amazed it has won awards, and can only conclude that populist, unchallenging writing is what grabs attention. I kept asking myself how many different ways could Silvey say the same thing over and over again – so overwritten and forced. And although it was set in Australia, I kept hearing American cadences and language. As for the puerile humour, it might amuse teenage boys who think gross equals funny, but I could have done without it.

    • Hello Anna, it’s never too late for a welcome to chatting about books on ANZ Litlovers:)
      You know, the responses I’ve had to this post about Jasper Jones makes me think that there should be a place for a dedicated lover of YA fiction to blog about them. There is such a lot of YA fiction about, and I think young people who don’t have much experience in judging books would value a place to discover the very best of what’s available.
      That still doesn’t answer the question about why JJ was shortlisted – I guess we’ll never really know that!

  28. I honestly love that book to bits, and so did everyone else in my class and all the teachers, it urged me to read on, it was such a mystery, yet thrilling. I simply don’t understand how people cannot like this fantastic book.

    • Hello Dakota, thank you for dropping by to share your opinion in such a nice friendly way:)
      I’m glad you found a book that you loved to read, and I hope you find lots more!
      Best wishes

  29. I am about half way through this book and while I am enjoying it, I think it needed tighter editing. There is too much contrived introspection taking attention away from Craig Silvey’s greater skill of characterisation and dialogue. I think maybe that first person narrative is not his forte but I am intrigued to know what happens and will happily keep on reading (which I don’t do if I am not getting value from a book).

    In terms of similar themes I much preferred Peter Goldsworthy’s “Everything I Knew” and for that year’s Miles Franklin nominees I preferred Glenda Guest’s mysterious “Siddon Rock”. That year however presented some noteworthy debut novellists with Deborah Forster in there with her hauntingly tragic “Book of Emmett”.

  30. I couldn’t agree more with the criticism of the appallingly written Jasper Jones!!
    I have just found out my daughters’s year 9 class are doing it as their school reading book next year.
    I am horrified!
    What to do!

    • Hello Bernadette, maybe in the hands of a good teacher who interrogates its stereotyping it might be worthwhile. They will be reading something else as well, won’t they?
      I mean, there is an expectation that they will read more than one book, I hope…

  31. I was listening to this last night and this morning (when Silvey started carrying on about Eric Cook) and like you, couldn’t finish it. Apart from the silly plot, it’s not like any 1964 that I remember.

    • Well, I did finish it – because I was on a plane and had nothing to read, but I was not impressed and still don’t understand why anyone would be. I mean, if you wanted to teach something about racism, why not choose an indigenous author writing about everyday racism that kids will recognise, not this melodramatic rubbish.


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