Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Grief That We Have No Right to Share; A New Study of the Soham Murders Concludes That People Should Not Be Judged by the Feelings They Show

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Grief That We Have No Right to Share; A New Study of the Soham Murders Concludes That People Should Not Be Judged by the Feelings They Show

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN MASTERS

Soham: A Story of Our Times by Nicci Gerrard (Short Books, [pounds sterling]9.99)

IT MUST be said at once that this is a deeply satisfying and thoughtful book.

Much rubbish has already been written about the heartrending tragedy of Soham, and doubtless there will be more, so it is a relief that Nicci Gerrard has found the cool, perceptive calmness of mind to deal with it responsibly and reflectively.

She has obviously been driven to it. This is not a task she has undertaken for want of any other at hand, but because she had to. There is an imperative urge in the writing which transforms a private meditation into a superlative essay full of bite and indignation.

The disappearance of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and the subsequent trial of their murderer, Ian Huntley, are themes which hover behind each page, but they are not central. Gerrard is much more concerned with public responses, the impertinent presumption that we could share the wounds of the girls' families with a selfindulgent, tawdry display of imagined grief.

Emotion has replaced religion in our world, she says, the facile surrender to emotion being much less demanding (or intelligent, one might add) than moral pondering. The resulting collective grief was both inauthentic and shallow, due to the fashion of judging people "by the feelings they display rather than the ideas they hold", which ultimately implies assessing their selfishness.

This selfishness is further compounded by the ludicrous, even pernicious doctrine that we are all in need of " counselling" to withstand those inconvenient accidents of life - distress and unhappiness.

We have grown suspicious of reserve and stoicism, and actively encourage everyone to give way at the drop of a hat (or a counsellor). Thus the whole country was said to be in shock, which was a gross insult to the girls' parents. Mr and Mrs Chapman have let it be known that they will not welcome any enquiry by any journalist; their grief is their own, not ours, and they thereby teach us a lesson. …

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