Is Throw Me To the Wolves a story about media manipulation that corrupts ordinary people? Is it a well-written, if too long, crime novel? Or is it, as The Guardian says, “an elegaic exploration of memory and the legacy of childhood trauma”?
Yes, yes (though I didn’t think it was too long) and yes. It’s based on the true story of a retired teacher, Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly accused of murder and became the target of a press feeding-frenzy. In fact Patrick McGuinness was taught by Jefferies, as his narrator Ander was taught by Michael Wolphram, another innocent man who suffers the same vicious public trial. The complication is that Ander is one of the police investigating the crime and seeing Michael Wolphram’s ordeal throws him back to his own unhappy childhood at the public school where Wolphram was one of the few decent teachers. A scene from a mock-trial of a student carried out by a sadistic teacher is pivotal to the novel. Ander hears one of his classmates snarl, “SHOULD BE FUCKING SHOT!”
Ander thinks that maybe all the hate in those words – the real, adult hate, the kind that makes people kill and torture each other, burn down people’s houses while they sleep – required a different voice, a voice other than a child’s, though it was a child it must have come from. He thinks maybe something possessed one of the boys and took his mouth for itself. Full-throated, burning blood-hate – it flashed there for a moment and then went away. But not away. It never went away.
Or he thinks that he invented it, that it was all in his head.
Ander never heard it again at school, but he’s heard it since, seen it at work, on streets after pubs close, in houses where men beat women, and at EDI, rallies and football matches. He’s almost familiar with it now. It’s the sound of hatred looking for an object to fix itself to.
Can I add another to the three definitions of the novel given above? For me, this is what it’s all about – hatred looking for an object to fix itself to. The book is full of inadequate people venting their unhappiness on others and so-called “ordinary decent” people all too ready to turn on anyone who’s seen as different. As the trashy reporter Lynne says,
I don’t make things happen. I’m just the way they happen. I’m the form they take. That’s all. The online sewers full of angry bastards blood-sporting the latest wounded celebrity or the latest broken nobody…
Note that the title is Throw Me To The Wolves, not Throw Him. We’re all involved in this culture and we could all be victims of it. Ander is a dreamer, a thinker and a listener with an imagination that reaches into others’ lives, but he’s a wounded soul with a strangely becalmed life. It’s a mournful, nostalgic book that draws on McGuinness’ own childhood experiences, and memorable for that, but it isn’t only that. The crime story is very cleverly-handled and worked out, and the account of the media manipulation of public opinion is deadly accurate. Very much worth your time.