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?
Our Little Cruelties seems, from the synopsis, to be a sort of ‘whodunnit’ – which brother is lying in a coffin at the funeral at the start of the story, and which brother killed him? However, as you delve further into the book, it’s clear that the story is far more of a dark and epic family drama. It charts the three brothers – and their families – over 40 plus years, starting with their childhood.
Our Little Cruelties features an array of characters which can be classed as one of (or all of) these adjectives: greedy, deceitful, horrible, selfish, self-pitying, jealous… basically, there’s few characters here to actually like or warm to, but this makes up the basis of the book. We’re following a family with a seemingly spiteful, nasty mother and three brothers of varying degrees of meanness: Luke, Brian, and Will. Luke is by far the most likable of the three of them, because he does seem to have a good heart and he has his own demons to contend with, whereas Brian and Will are in a league of their own in terms of cruelty.
Liz Nugent’s writing is brilliant, taking us back and forwards in time and across different continents to tell the three brothers’ stories. Reading each brother’s narrative from their point of view means we see inside their head, and see their reasonings for what they have done – but it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to believe them or empathise with them. We see it all: their terrible life choices and the way they treat others around them, including children, partners and friends. We start to see how their lives spiral out of control, leading to the day where one of them dies – but this ‘mystery’ element, although put forward as the driving factor in the plot, feels secondary. We may wonder throughout who is in that coffin, but I didn’t have much time to consider this because I was so engrossed in their stories, dark and gritty as they were.
There are a lot of serious issues explored in this book, including addiction, destructive relationships, fame, sexuality and body image, the #MeToo movement… it’s all portrayed in a starkly honest way; we see clearly how wrong some of the characters are, and there are no excuses made for them from the author. Our Little Cruelties lays it all out on the table, depicting how the Drumm family have tried to survive over the years, and the various ways they have hurt and destroyed those around them in order to achieve their own personal “goals”.
Our Little Cruelties is dark, intriguing and shocking, and I loved every page.
Many thanks to the publisher, Penguin Ireland, for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.