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  • As If
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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
As If
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on 29 January 2013
Not a comfortable read, but does make you question your own values and assumptions about the public version of events surrounding this crime. Also puts children to the forefront as sentient beings, and asks us to weigh up the balance of culpability and vulnerability of all concerned in the terrible murder of James Bulger and the resultant media reports of the trial and convictions.
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on 31 March 2013
This book is very interesting and gives an insight into the minds of murderers and maybe understanding the reasons why they commit these crimes.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 December 2011
I discovered this book on reading a quote in The Child Who which is a novel with a similar, although not the same, basis as the murder of James Bulger.

Blake Morrison takes us through his days and thoughts while he sat in court where Robert Thompson and Jon Veneables were tried for murder, committed at the age of 10. The trial is intersperced with his thoughts of his own childhood as well as that of his children. His empathy includes everyone, the three sets of parents involved, the three children involved as well as the social workers, the teachers and the city of Liverpool. Don't be fooled though this isn't a simplistic no-one is to blame, the book reads well as he argues to and for several of these points e.g the parents are to blame; what about their parents?. Blake Morrison puts across the view that these children shouldn't have been tried in an adult court, rather they should have had access to pyschiatric help as soon as their involvement was discovered.

Although the premise of the book was to find out why? No obvious answers are found, was it pre-meditated or a prank gone wrong? How will we ever know when 10 year old boys don't think like adults? A sad book particularly in light of the revelation that Jon Veneables has had his parole licence revoked.
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on 16 January 2000
This book is absolutely stunning. It's a gripping and truthful account of the murder of James Bulger. It is remarkably written leaving the reader deeply shocked and overcharged with emotion. This is the type of book that has you in tears but you still can not put it down. You feel compelled to read on. It is a must read for everybody if only to warn people how easily tragic events like this can occur. But be warned it is an unforgetable book which will haunt you after reading it. Blake Morrison writes the events beautifully and honestly. He tries wonderfully to answer the question 'Why' but his comments will go towards the great debate which will go on for a long time and may never be solved. As a reader who was only a couple of years older than the boys who killed James at the time I did not understand all the goings on surrounding the killing and court case so it was a must read for me when the book came out. As a case which is still very much in the headlines to this day, the book makes you realise that James's killers will be freed in a couple of years and will only be young men with all of their lives to live and James never saw past the toddler years. This book should be read by anyone who cares for children.
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on 20 February 2003
"As If" is the author's attempt to understand the "why" of the murder of James Bulger. In an attempt to do this, comparisons are made with his own home life, history and feelings, and while there is no question that his writing is exquisite, too much of the book is given over to describing the author's circumstances. I agree with the reviewer who thought this rather self-indulgent, and I felt a little frustrated since I bought the book to read about the Bulger murder, and not Blake Morrison. I also would have liked more transcripts, drawings, etc.
And yet this seems a small price to pay, since it would then not be the extraordinary book it actually is. One particular account of the author visiting the murder scene left me overwhelmed by some of the most moving and powerful writing I think I have ever read! Morrison's honest treatment of the Bulger murderers is truly commendable, and anyone with so much as a passing interest in the case should read it, so long as they are prepared to forego sensationalism for something altogether more intelligent.
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on 23 August 2016
its the idea that children shouldn't be killers is possibly worrying. as children we are known to have burned insects beneath magnifying glasses, pulled legs off frogs tortured cats etc etc. children are cruel to each other, mercilessly sometimes, too, in acts of bullying that would probably lead to prison sentences were it to happen in adulthood. maybe we are mislead in thinking that children are essentially benign - which happily most are. but if we throw in circumstances that corrupt this essential goodness and the children in question are unschooled or lack a basic empathy that prevents cruelty then events like James Bulger are not so far away? it is a work of fiction but Lord of the Flies demonstrates this possible breakdown. as one reviewer has stated "it's really sad we have to choose between the lynch mob and 'they are never to blame' pseudo liberals." we don't have to choose between these two poles, its understanding how these events come about in our society and how we can stop them. I don't view Blake Morrison as a pseudo liberal - I think that's unkind and almost crass - almost in the camp of the lynch mob themselves. if we do not understand and rehabilitate we are, in my opinion, losing the battle. it starts with our children, basic concepts: love, acknowledgment, safety, approval. the main reviewer asks: why didn't Thompson and Venables choose to become part of the 20% who do NOT abuse others and release young James rather than kill him? I think they will have done with hindsight, or, I hope they have done. if so, there is hope. but the reviewers idea that they could so easily change their minds during that long walk also has a flaw. she was not in their minds at the time - this black and white vision on how easily it is to change ones mind does not help, it only condemns - a cry from the emotions that cant possibly understand why they killed James Bulger. the only ones who know are the killers. and I doubt if they truly understand why they did it too. I've just watched the BBC programme from 1999, I think, on YouTube. its still utterly heartbreaking to see that video of James being taken in full view before he disappears I felt completely powerless even now - as I did then. there are no easy answers. Morrison attempts to understand. I don't think he wants to explain away anything. I don't believe for one moment he condones those horrific actions. what would that make him? a pseudo liberal? or a murderer? I read the book about ten years ago and ive just ordered it again, maybe i'll change my mind and be in more agreement with the initial review? I DON'T agree that the killers are "innocent" either, as this suggests 'guilt' as the opposite pole. but somewhere in between something went very wrong in our society and in the belief that young humans don't kill BECAUSE they are children.
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on 11 January 2001
This was a book I wanted to read for some time. Coincidentally, as I finished it (Jan 2001), news broke that the two convicted boys will be granted anonymity on their release. Shortly afterwards, a telephone poll in the media reported 94% of the public disagreed with this judgement. Those 94% would rather the boys' location be public knowledge, inviting retribution. Those 94% should read this book. Blake Morrison doesn't have all the answers to the questions thrown up by this tragedy, nor does he claim to. All he does is implores them to be asked, implores us to ask them of ourselves. For example, do we not all have a memory, however vague, of some incident in our childhood which we are now at a loss to explain? It doesn't have to be murder, nor even violent. The point being there exists in all our formative years some act which we now, as adults, find morally questionable and so prefer to forget. The author recalls such events, and made me do the same. Sadly, it seems the majority of the public are too happy merely to demonize these boys, the more comfortable option. Now, I'm a father of a little boy, also called James. I found reading the detailed description of the route to murder (abduction finally culminating in the act itself), hard going; difficult to avoid thinking about my own son. However, this book is not about morbid fascination. It raises topics about upbringing, parenthood, nature/nurture, all in the quest to answer THE ONE QUESTION: WHY?
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on 17 July 2007
I have long believed that 'To understand all is to forgive all' (Voltaire). Many people don't agree but I often wonder how those adults braying for two ten year old boys to be locked up as 'evil animals' would feel if they could see a video of the boys lives. What must they have been subjected to - we must ask ourselves as adults - to have been able to commit such a murder?

Morrison goes further than this... in order to understand he looks inside himself... as any good actor, Buddhist, Christian, believer or humanist must do. Every good actor that seeks to play a murderer must find the seeds of a murderer inside himself. It's only then when we truly see how, had the dice fallen differently, any one of those three boys could have been our sons - that we can have the compassion and empathy that such a case cries out for.

It is 2007 now and yet STILL emails circulate asking us to add our names to complaints that the judge had compassion and offered them new lives and new identities. So if you get such an email, and feel inclined to add your name - read this book first.

And if, like me, you are saddened by the lack of understanding and compassion displayed by humanity, read Blake Morrison's book. As he says so wonderfully - even if you don't agree that 'To understand all is to forgive all' you may agree that to understand nothing is to forgive nothing. This is all around us. The alternative, the way of peace and of forgiveness has to be worked hard for.

So thank you Blake Morrison - for this exceptionally brave piece of writing. And for teaching us about wisdom and compassion.
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on 20 June 2013
The 2* rating I've given AS IF in no way reflects on the excellence of the narrative, which leads one to read compulsively from page to page.

Rather, my rating of this book is to highlight what is mostly forgotten in this book: that a society, which forgets the victims of a crime in its concern for the rights of the perpetrators, is neither liberal nor civilised, but merely sliding from one unhealthy extreme of human nature to another.

Yes, as Morrison so eloquently calls for in the last chapter of AS IF, to be considered civilised, we must move away from a lynch mob mentality, which demands retribution with no thought or consideration of understanding the WHY of a seemingly unpardonable act. But that does not mean society should move to the opposite pole either, where thinking becomes so liberal that no individual, however violent, has to take responsibility for the consequences of his/her actions.

This is what AS IF does. An elegant and intellectual essay exploring the WHY behind the James Bulger murder, AS IF has one fatal, fundamental flaw: the author's blindness to the fact that, in his strong identification with Thompson and Venables (more about the WHY of *that* later), he forgets to understand the fears and feelings, limitations and troubles of another young child and his family.

Several other reviewers of this book have indicated that Morrison focused too much on his own feelings to the detriment of the book. Although, at times, the prose is to consciously literary, too consciously long-winded (he likes his long lists, he does), it's so lyrically emotional that this interiority of the well-written prose is what makes it such an interesting read.

However, what is more challenging and thought provoking about this book is the way the author identifies so strongly with the perpetrators and seeks excuses for them in their upbringing. He constantly defends them; in his aching compassion for them he seeks justification and excuses for their act to such a strong degree that he appears to lose sight of "the tiny victim" James Bulger, and his parents. This brought to mind the angry cry in Ralph Bulger's recent book: "I get so angry that it always seems to be about them and not my baby." [Pg 98 "My James: The Heartrending Story of James Bulger by His Father" by Ralph Bulger, Rosie Dunn|17269253]]

AS IF does make the Bulger murder case all about the "innocence" of the child murderers and the effect it had on their families and, by doing so, Morrison forgets the ravished innocence of James Bulger and the shattered expectations his parents.

Given the anguished suffering of Morrison's search for understanding the WHY behind the perpetrators actions before condemning them, this seeming inability of an otherwise erudite, compassionate and intelligent author to show an equal compassion for the Bulger's side of the story puzzled me.

Why is his empathy reserved so clearly for the "terrifying experience" of the child murderers to the exclusion of any exploration of the utter terror of what young James must have experienced at the hands of these two perpetrators? Is it because Thompson and Venables are there, alive in court to garner sympathy with their youth and their tears, but James is dead and buried out of sight and, it seems in this book, mostly out of Morrison's mind as well?

Why the understanding and compassion for the difficulties of Thompson's mother Ann, and Venables' parents, Susan and Neil when, even as he sympathises with her, Morrison subtly sneers at Denise Bulger for allowing Hello magazine to tell her story [Pg 58]? The Bulgers come from a similar background to the Venables and the Thompsons - poor, rough and uneducated. Thus, Morrison's prejudice against them throughout the book [Pg 32; 227-229 & others] is incomprehensible when given his intense search for understanding and the compassion he has for the Thompson and Venables families.

Incomprehensible, that is, until near the end when he reveals - with what appears to be a searing honesty - the WHY of why he identifies so strongly with Thompson & Venables as "innocent" children unfairly judged for a crime they committed without a full understanding of what they were doing.

Morrison's guilt at his youthful actions [Pg 208 to 214] lies at the heart of his need for society to forgive Thompson and Venables for, if they can find forgiveness, then surely he can too. But the cases are vastly different and Morrison's arguments and defence of Thompson and Venables fail because of his inability to detach himself from his personal reasons for identifying with them. With that inability, he creates another injustice: he forgets the torment and suffering of the only truly innocent child in this case, young James Bulger.

For, as young as they were Thompson and Venables had a window of opportunity, when - even with a child's supposedly limited consciousness of the difference between wrong and right - they could have chosen not to murder, and brutally murder at that, a young toddler who, in his innocence, had trusted them. Morrison himself, in justification and understanding of Thompson and Venables extreme abuse of James, quotes statistics that say 80% of abused children become abusers themselves [Pg 200].

Again, Morrison's reasoning fails him because of his too-strong identification with the perpetrators. Why didn't he look at this statistic in another way: 20% of abused children do NOT grow up to become abusers. On that long walk from Boodle Strand to the railway line, in all those long minutes that baby James was crying for his mum and his dad, why didn't Thompson and Venables choose to become part of the 20% who do NOT abuse others and release young James rather than kill him?

Morrison's closing chapter is a brilliant exposition of what forgiveness means and why it's necessary for humankind's evolution. But at what point does forgiveness become a doorway to condone actions that take humanity away from the very path of civilization that it's supposed to lead us to in our quest to become more humane, rational beings?

Like the Bulger case itself, AS IF by Blake Morrison will raise more questions than it answers. Whichever side of the divide you stand on in this case, AS IF makes an important contribution in that it succeeds in removing much of the "demonization" of Thompson and Venables. One is left wondering whether they are merely lost souls, rather than pure evil. And one can't help thinking, there but for the grace of God go our children: safe, happy and, hopefully, kind.
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on 8 March 2013
Nowhere near as good as I had been led to expect. The writing is excellent, but there's too much 'poetic' padding'. I had wanted to know the facts and discovered precious few.
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