“Liz Nugent has a gift for filling us with a terrible fascination for truly horrible people.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Wow! Liz Nugent does it again in her latest offering, Our Little Cruelties, the story of the three brothers , who along with their parents make up the rather dysfunctional Drumm family.
The book opens with the funeral of one of the brothers, without revealing which of the three it is, a clever hook that immediately lets us know that there is more to this family than we might at first think. The rest of the book is told in varying timelines from each of the brother’s perspectives , a clever device which allows the reader to see how each of them remember specific events , often very differently, allowing us to judge for ourselves which version seems the most likely given what we know about the family as a whole.
There are dysfunctional families and then there are the Drumms. Mother Melissa is something of a washed up showbiz star, a former showband singer who is still reliving her glory days, while her husband fades into the background. Oldest son Will is self centred and self obsessed , and despite being married and the father of a daughter , has no problem with using his position as a successful film producer to pressure women into sex. He has always been his mother’s favourite, and lives his life as the golden child. Middle son Brian is notoriously obsessed with money, a man with short arms and deep pockets as they say, and is not above using his family to cash in , seizing every advantage that comes his way without empathy or remorse. Less successful than either of his siblings , he is resentful and jealous , though not always without cause. The youngest son Luke, is a cautionary tale of success.
Neurotic and highly religious as a boy, he found unlikely fame as a pop singer, but as is so often the way with those who get too much too soon, he soon crashes into a nightmare of addiction, exacerbated by mental health issues and his turbulent relationship with his mother who was always so cold and distant towards him. Over the course of the first three quarters of the book we see the boys grow up , and how the complex relationships between them constantly ebb and flow , always in danger of fracturing beyond repair. In the final section of the book, that fracture happens, and all the little cruelties that the brothers have perpetuated come home to roost with tragic consequences that take us back to the beginning.
I loved the structure of the book, it really allowed the author to develop each of the brother’s characters so well. All of them are deeply flawed, but over the course of the book we see how their family dynamics play into those flaws. Even when they are being unlikable or doing despicable things , it is still possible to feel sympathy for them because we understand why they are the way they are.
Although there is an element of suspense or mystery to the story given that we do not know which of the brothers ends up dead, the most interesting aspect of the book for me were the characters, the three brothers who were so different felt so very real to me that I found myself unable to put down the book until their story had concluded.
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Added 8th May 2020