March 20th, 2010
Andrew O'Hagan reflects on his first significant article for the London Review of Books, suddenly and terribly topical all over again:
I've been thinking all week about Jon Venables. In some way, I find it too distressing to write down what the case means to me, when so many people believe the young man is simply a lost cause, a person in the grip of evil. The papers have been ringing asking for comment: the messages go to voicemail. Outside, buses pass in quick succession, the passengers reading their newspapers and seeming very sure of something: 'Once Evil, Always Evil,' says the Mirror. I keep thinking of Meursault, who didn't know why he did it, who didn't see the size of the damage, who wasn't able to opt for survival, with the sun beating down and explaining nothing.
When I first wrote about the killing of James Bulger, in the LRB in March 1993, I was in my early twenties and it was the first proper piece I'd written for publication. The nation was in an uproar and something about the boys on the CCTV footage made me uneasy about myself. The editor sent me home to think about it, and over that day and long night I came to see my unease was to do with familiarity. Venables and Thompson were not only like the boys I knew, but like the boy I had been, and their crime was an extreme version, different in degree but not in essence, from things we had done on the housing estate outside Glasgow where I grew up. The amoral meandering of the boys was something I recognised. [...]