The cover of one of Penguin's editions of the classic.

The cover of one of Penguin's editions of the classic.

SHORTLY, students undertaking VCE literature will be receiving their books for next year. Some schools will be offering Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As a literature teacher, I have no issue with the quality of Marquez's writing. Indeed former US president Bill Clinton, no less, described Marquez as, ''The most important writer of fiction in any language.''

I do, however, have deep concerns over this book being on a VCE course. The reason? It explores an incestuous sexual relationship between a septuagenarian man and a 14-year-old girl. The girl is, so Marquez tells us: ''Still a child in every sense of the word, with braces on her teeth, and the scrapes of elementary school on her knees.'' If this wasn't enough, the girl's schooling declines and she commits suicide. She is merely a conquest.

It beggars belief that the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has allowed this book to be included on next year's VCE literature course. Moreover, the selection panel that chooses the books, has shown gross insensitivity to the potential readers of the book; all the more so at a time when the Catholic Church, rightly, is facing public scrutiny over paedophilic behaviour by priests.

Teachers are supposed to be leaders in the community. They are supposed to endorse, if not moral values, then certainly not condone illegality and values that imply that sex with a child is acceptable.

It just doesn't wash that this book is included on its artistic, let alone doubtful literary merits. This is not a matter of censorship. It is a matter of what befits appropriate, edifying instruction in classrooms. By any measure, Love in the Time of Cholera promotes carnality, excuses illegal under-age sexual contact, describing it as Marquez says, as a ''restorative perversion''.

Surely teachers have a responsibility to say such a relationship is not acceptable. Sexual penetration of a child is not OK anywhere and because it is in literature at VCE level, this does not legitimise it. Any teacher abrogating their duty of care and who is misguided enough to teach the book will face this question from a student: ''What is your view on sex with a child?'' If they say it is unacceptable, then a student can surely ask, ''Why is the book on the course?'' There is no defence.

The public vilification photographer Bill Henson faced in 2008 over his images - subtly erotic for some, pornographic for others, artful for a few and things of beauty for fewer still - is a case in point. Henson was not explicit in his portrayal of under-age sex. It was in the mind of the viewer, if it was there at all. Yet, it seems there is clearly a double-standard at work here.

While Henson's work is in public galleries and by its nature is to be viewed by many collectively, Marquez's book is in the hands of a VCE student, often read alone and in private. It is clear that Marquez's book is explicitly sexual (''He won her affection; he led her by the hand, and with the gentle astuteness of a kind grandfather, towards his secret slaughterhouse.'').

What this and other passages from the text do is in effect say that this skilful septuagenarian grooms his target and once he wins her trust, begins a sexual relationship that results in a child's death. Hey, but that's life ain't it? Meanwhile he moves on to another, older woman.

If Love in the Time of Cholera was a cautionary tale, the book might have some merit. It isn't. What it does is provide a voyeuristic engagement where a palpably prurient interest in child sex is primary.

In simple terms, the novel is likely to be a bit of a perve for pimply faced adolescent boys to show their mates what the dirty old man gets up to with a year-9 student.

And for girls, it sends a perhaps more damaging message still. This is that it is OK to lose your virginity at 14 to an older and experienced man who will make you feel a woman. Oh, your grades will suffer along the way and you'll probably kill yourself when he dumps you.

Those who set this book either have not read it - yes, this does happen - or are operating in a different universe as to what is acceptable literature.

VCAA has shown an appalling lack of judgment in allowing this book to be on the VCE literature course for 2013 and can be accused of either incompetence, or disregard for the sensibilities of Victorian students who may be asked to read Marquez.

Meanwhile, parents who may read the book may have a very different idea about what is acceptable and what isn't.

This book is offensive because it says repeatedly that screwing - yes, it's an ugly word - a child is for art's sake, well excusable. Is it? You decide.

Christopher Bantick is a senior literature teacher.

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