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Chloe Hooper: A Child's Book Of True Crime


A Child's Book Of True Crime

Author: Chloe Hooper
Publisher: Scribner

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Practically every other chapter in Chloe Hooper's novel A Child's Book Of True Crime breaks from the main narrative to demonstrate the title's promised conceit: a murder investigation written up for the kiddie market. In the children's tale, the animals of Tasmania report the grisly details of a slaying in a small town, sparing none of the gore or sexual charge which also appear in Hooper's "adult" version of the same story. (The book-within-a-book idea is also reflected in True Crime's dust jacket, which depicts a smaller dust jacket.) The bi-level approach emphasizes Hooper's apparent fascination with the demarcations between adults and children, between humans and animals, and between Australians and their criminal ancestors. The novel is narrated by recent university graduate Kate Byrne, a primary-school teacher in the insular Tasmanian community of Endport. Byrne is involved in an affair with Thomas Marne, a city lawyer whose 9-year-old son Lucien is in Byrne's class, and whose wife Veronica has just scored a bestseller with her non-fiction account of a notorious local crime. Over the two days covered in Hooper's text, Byrne grows increasingly paranoid over the familiar details of Mrs. Marne's book, in which a semi-naive girl who is involved with a married professional is savagely murdered by her lover's spouse. Byrne's anxiety increases when someone severs her fan belt, and when she finds the words "I KNOW" scratched into her classroom door. The parallels between Byrne's situation and the one depicted in Mrs. Marne's book further illustrate Hooper's obsession with depicting mirror worlds. She doesn't seem interested in resolving any of the mysteries her protagonist ponders, because she's more concerned with how the mysteries can be interpreted—whether her characters identify with murderers or victims. And the ultimate victim that Hooper is brooding over is childhood, which is killed by the physical changes of puberty, uncontrollable sexual desires, and the realization that children's artificial, junior-sized environments can be poor preparation for adulthood. The conclusion of A Child's Book Of True Crime is a little too psychologically spot-on, and even though the book is short, Hooper's prose is padded by redundant passages which, though vivid and witty, become more show-offy and distracting as the plot thickens. Of course, it's possible that Hooper's repetition is another way of re-establishing her thesis: that every truth can be expressed and understood a multitude of ways, depending on the audience and the author.