The Sleep Of Reason – The James Bulger Case

(First published by Century, Random House,1994)

The Sleep Of Reason - The James Bulger Case book jacket

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Friday, February 12, 1993. They began the day playing truant and ended it running an errand for the local video shop. In between they abducted a two year old child and killed him on the railway line. Now the world has heard the identities of the two ten year olds who were convicted of murdering James Bulger. But, distorted and obscured by the frenzy of publicity that followed their trial, Jon Venables and Bobby Thompson remain an unknown presence at the heart of the case.

The Sleep Of Reason peels away the outer layers of the story in search of an explanation. It looks behind the misinformation, misunderstanding and sensational reporting to give an honest and exact account of the events that surrounded the killing of James Bulger. The boys are gradually pulled into focus, through a detailed recreation of their day on February 12, the extraordinary series of interviews that followed their arrests and the background to their troubled lives at school and at home.

Here are two ten year olds with unbroken voices. One collects troll dolls, the other is preoccupied with computer games. One is chubby, with cropped hair, the other wiry, hair styled in a wedge. To all appearances they are unremarkable children.

With the help of the police officers who investigated the case and additional access to people – including Bobby Thompson’s mother – and much sensitive information that did not emerge during the trial, David James Smith has written a human and compassionate portrait of a frightening crime.

By this means The Sleep Of Reason achieves a unique understanding of the James Bulger case, and comes as close as may ever be possible to explaining how two ten year olds could kill.


Latest News

  • The Sleep Of Reason – The James Bulger Case by David James Smith:
    Faber Finds edition with new preface, available September 15th, 2011.

  • Young Mandela the movie – in development.

    From The Guardian
    Read the article

    In the Diary column of The Independent, April 13th, 2011

    More on my previously unsubstantiated claim that the writer-director Peter Kosminsky, creator of The Promise, is working on a drama about Nelson Mandela. I’ve now learnt that the project is a feature film, in development with Film 4, about the young Mandela. Kosminsky is currently at work on the script and, given the complaints about the anti-Jewish bias of The Promise, it is unlikely to be a standard bland portrait of the former South African president.

Latest Review

    New York Times – J. M. Ledgard
  • Nelson Mandela was circumcised as a 16-year-old boy alongside a flowing river in the Eastern Cape. The ceremony was similar to those of other Bantu peoples. An elder moved through the line making ring-like cuts, and foreskins fell away. The boys could not so much as blink; it was a rite of passage that took you beyond pain. read full review

See David James Smith…

Jon Venables: What Went Wrong
BBC 1, 10.35
Thursday, April 21st, 2011