Kids who kill kids

2008-09-03 00:00

Schools are not places to kill or be killed in. We generally conceive of them as places of learning, growth, youthful exuberance and games. So, the concept of a murder on the playground will jar with many readers.

Initially, I did not want to read this book. But, having begun to turn the pages late one night, I was intrigued with the depth of the character of 16-year-old Errol Stevens, as the reasons why he killed a fellow pupil unfold. He tells his story in a journal he has been made to write by a psychologist while on trial for the murder of another teenager.

Set in the sixties, his diary relates the ordeal of his high-school years and what led him to stab a knife into the heart of 17-year-old Peter McKechnie, who was not his enemy.

A highly intelligent boy, Errol’s capacity for deep thought mostly offers little protection against the extreme challenges he faces. While his self-esteem takes a dive, he never loses his strong sense of self, which ultimately triumphs. A beautifully written book, with layers of poetry and literary references which I revelled in, Soliloquy offers a glimpse into the psyche of a boy largely forgotten by those who should have looked out for him. His psychological need for a rescuer and fantasies about people doing heroic things for him resonated with me, but the book is not sentimentally written. I will keep this novel, to read again and again and to share with people who I hope will appreciate it in the way I did.

In a twist of uncanny synchronicity, just as I was nearing the end of the book, a Krugersdorp pupil took a samurai sword to school and killed a schoolmate. The issue of school murder became the subject of huge media attention and public interest. Although the reasons behind that murder are perhaps very different almost 50 years on from the time of Soliloquy, the horror of the act and the issues around it are timeless.

Soliloquy should be compulsory reading for teachers.

Stephanie Saville

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