Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin.
Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother's unequal love. As men, the competition continues - for status, money, fame, women ...
They each betray each other, over and over, until one of them is dead.
But which brother killed him?
Many thanks to Penguin Book via NetGalley for my copy of Little Cruelties to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
There are not many authors that have me straying out of my comfort zones when it comes to reading, those being historical fiction or the lighter end of women's fiction, but Liz Nugent is one such author which I will always do this for. She is an incredibly talented writer who just gets better and better with each book. She creates such evil and dysfunctional characters that at times you start to like them but deep down you know you shouldn't but then with a turn of a page all that vanishes and you find yourself disliking them intensely for their abhorrent behaviour. Every new book that Liz Nugent publishes always causes a stir and everyone wants to get their hands on a copy as soon as possible.
Our Little Cruelties, Liz's fourth book, has had such buzz around it since the end of 2019. I saw people talking about it on social media and was so envious that they already had a copy so when I got the chance to grab an early copy I jumped at it and I wasn't in the least bit disappointed as once again Liz has created another masterpiece that only cements her status as an Irish author of a very high calibre. One who writes such gripping page turners with the most devious of characters at the centre.
I mean how does she come up with such twisted and unpleasant characters and get inside their heads so well? Not to mention the plots which leave you rapidly turning the pages eager to know what will happen in the end. With Liz Nugent you never know how things are going to pan out. You may think you are clever and have things sussed out but then you are always left surprised and shocked in equal measure when you reach the final few chapters. Again Our Little Cruelties is no different, that ending will leave you open mouthed and as for her opening lines they surely will go down in literary history as being some of the best around in terms of grabbing your attention and making you sit up and take notice.
'All three of the Drumm brothers were at the funeral although one of us was in a coffin'. That line certainly made me sit up and take notice because with a few simple words it says so much. Which brother is it and what happened because knowing Liz Nugent this wasn't going to be your run of the mill death. None of the Drumm brothers were especially close, it was always two against one and they switched sides regularly. Funny that was said because that was how I found myself throughout the novel, switching from side to side as to which brother I thought had some semblance of normality or believing one brother over another depending on who I was reading about. Even my thoughts as to which brother was lying in the coffin changed regularly.
The story is split into three distinct voices – William, Luke and Brian. Over the course of the book we get to hear from each of them and this was such a brilliant way of really getting to know the three individually and what their different take on various situations were. Sometimes there was repetition in that one brother may have spoken about an event and then further on a different brother would recall it. In the hands of anyone else this wouldn't have worked and the fact also we move back and forth in years in each brothers section would often confuse me. But Liz Nugent is so adept at chopping, changing and stirring things up that I felt like I was in the hands of a master and everything flowed so well as each character and every scene was so carefully crafted and plotted.
It was clear from fairly on that this wasn't your average family unit. Even from their childhood which seemed fairly innocuous each brother had their own issues and grudges. They judge each other and the way their mother and father parent them. As they grow older and from reading further on into the book, it's evident they have no redeeming qualities. It was each to their own, with them either trying to outdo or shaft each other. They seemed to have chips on their shoulders and there was no unity or strong family bonds. Compassion and sentiment were definitely lacking. Family squabbles led to resentment, sibling rivalries, jealousy and adultery. Liz certainly threw everything at them and I thoroughly enjoyed that these men were made to squirm when shocking truths were revealed. I found myself very quick to form judgements on each one because I really believed what ever brother I was reading about was saying. I was taking it as gospel but then a different brother would show another perspective on the same situation with a totally different viewpoint or he would recall well that actually that event didn't occur that way.
For me compassion started to creep in in relation to Luke, the baby of the family and perhaps the most messed up. He shows his inner self on his sleeve and his path of destruction ebbs and flows just like his career does. He was vulnerable and in need of help as he spirals into addiction and depression. But I felt like Brian and William just let him off as they were too absorbed in their own problems and again it showed how self centred they both where that family didn't really mean that much to them. Luke was ill and despite his success as a singer it only brought more pain and devastation into his life. Brian and William ignored the fact that Luke was silently crying out for help and instead of offering aid and support the words taking advantage spring to mind. Agitation, anxiety and self destruction sum up Luke and even from chapters told from the point of view of his early childhood it all stemmed from there and some of the things he did and thought were totally off the wall which led to him being flawed and damaged as he became an adult.
William was the first brother we heard so maybe I was really stuck on his opinions and views of everything but then as I said that changed. His dream is to be a successful producer in film and to this end I think he sacrificed his family unit with Susan and young daughter Daisy. Things you thought he would learn to rectify from his own childhood never seemed to happen. It's like none of the characters ever learned a lesson because they were so self centred and self absorbed. So caught up in their own trivialities which manifested themselves into larger amounts of hatred and anger. There was a distinct lack of trust and soon deceit, blackmail and betrayal came into play.
As for Brian, initially I thought perhaps he is the most sane of the three, the one with a bit of common sense and who at some points tried to help Luke. But it soon becomes clear as we reach his section of the book that he is just as bad as the other two. Some of the reveals regarding Brian left me very surprised as he had put on such a good front. But deep down he was dark and brutal like William and Luke and these dark shadows haunting all three could only inevitably led to further lies, hypocrisy and unpredictable events and ultimately resulting in the death of one of the brothers. But which one and why?
Our Little Cruelties lived up to every one of the expectations I had for it and even went way beyond them. I thoroughly enjoyed how everything came together as it was so expertly paced and plotted. It has all the hallmarks of a best seller written all over it but sure every book that Liz has written has had these traits in spades. It has such divisive, unreliable, vile, vicious and hateful characters that will leave you up in arms. You'll want to know what makes each of them tick and what exactly are the roots of their issues? The ending alone makes this is a five star read. An edge of your seat finale which was very twisty and clever. I hope Liz Nugent is already hard at work on her next book because truly I would be happy just to continuously read more and more from this magnificent author.