Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent – Review

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By Sandra Callard

Liz Nugent’s latest book brings forward a barrage of unpleasant characters who hit the senses with a positive revulsion. Based around a family of mother, dad and three sons, it is a tightly packed and suffocating story of hatred, unfaithfulness and jealousy between the family members.

The mother is a fading singer and actress who is feeling the wind of change passing over her aging talents. The boys all enter the entertainment business, one in film making, one in management and one in a drug fuelled singing career. Dad is a nonentity who drifts around the marriage, putting up with his wife’s numerous affairs which are occasionally witnessed by her children.

A truly uninspiring array of characters who seemingly all hate each other are jealous of each others’ successes in their careers and take an active part in trying to scupper any further success that each may have. The whole book is infiltrated with loathing, betrayal, jealousy and sex, either extramarital, lack of, or drug induced.

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent book Review coverThere are some good points, however. A smooth and tight text by the author follows the story with an ease and composure which belies the brutality of the subject matter. But in so doing, it confronts the reader with a terrible clarity of the increasing tensions, both in speech and action that the family indulge in. It is sad, horrific but undoubtedly well-written.

“Extremely unpleasant to read”

The book is quite fatiguing to read as the inevitability of tragedy is always present. It moves to a truly tragic culmination which we know will happen because we are told so at the opening of the book, as two of the boys attend the funeral of the third. We are not told who has died or who was responsible for the death, but the horror of the two brothers being responsible is clearly stated. It is, however, in no way a thrilling whodunit but it is a clever twist on a murder theme.

Nugent’s talents are obvious. She is a skilful writer who has penned a very unusual and vividly presented story. The fact that it left this reader puzzled, dismayed and somewhat disgruntled that I had not felt the slightest pleasure in reading this book, and were it not for the fact that, as a reviewer, I was duty bound to read it, I would have abandoned it at a very early stage.

The fact that the hatred and organised and deliberate cruelties were sustained throughout the story made it extremely unpleasant to read, but was also quite tiring and rather boring as I began to think: ‘Here we go again, another vicious trick on the way’.

I am always fascinated by the fact that readers inevitably make judgements as to which characters they like, love, dislike or loathe in any book they read. It is enjoyable to do so but that pleasure is taken from the readers of this book because not one of the mainstream characters can be in any way considered likeable or even interesting. I truly did not care what happened to any of them, and I did not like myself for so doing. I find it almost impossible not to take sides with the characters I am reading about, so this was a very disappointing first for me.

Ultimately this is an altogether sad and unnecessary book by a very talented author, and I will approach any further books by Liz Nugent with some trepidation and much more caution.

‘Our Little Cruelties’ by Liz Nugent is published by Penguin, £7.99 paperback


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