Every once in a while, a book will be so engrossing and so unputdownable that it’ll invade my daily thoughts. This was the case with Liz Nugent’s most recent tale, which is titled Little Cruelties. It came out a little while ago, but I just got around to reading it. Now, I’m wishing I hadn’t waited so long.
To put it simply, Little Cruelties is one of the best and most memorable books I’ve read. It’s easily one of the best of this year’s reads, but goes beyond that.
This is the story of three Irish brothers named William, Brian and Luke. It begins in a funeral parlour, though, as the reader is informed that two of the brothers are in the midst of saying goodbye to the third. Which brother isn’t made clear, and that’s part of the mystery (of sorts) surrounding this story.
Almost all of the book is split up into parts, with the first three offering the perspective of each brother. We start with Will, then move on to Brian before entering Luke’s troubled headspace. Spoiler alert: None of them are very good people, but the degrees of their awfulness vary.
Will is a pompous ass, who dreams of being a filmmaker and will do anything he can to get ahead. He’s far from loyal, isn’t nice to women and sees his family as leeches who are only helpful when they can do something for him or help him get ahead. Meanwhile, Brian is a cheap conman who likes to think he’s better than his brothers (much like Will does, to be honest), but isn’t. He’ll take, steal or do anything he can in order to get ahead.
Last up is Luke, the youngest of the trio. Treated poorly by his entire family, apart from their father and aunt, he feels like an alien within the Drumm family. Despite his being the baby, his mother (Melissa Craig, who happens to be a rather popular old time performer known for her style of singing and some acting roles) treats him poorly and never shows him love. All the while, mental illness threatens his sanity and success, leading to other issues. Funnily enough, though, he’s the most popular of the Drumms despite their roles in show business, due to becoming a pop star at a young age.
When I first saw Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent on NetGalley, I mistook it for a thriller. That’s not what it is, though. This is more of a fictional narrative with slight mystery elements. In fact, if I were to describe it simply I’d call it a fascinating character study of awful people. These are some of the worst and most interesting characters I’ve met in the world of the written word.
What makes this thing so interesting is its depth of character. All of the Drumm brothers are very well and deeply written; so much so that they feel alive. It’s also hard not to cheer for them at times, before realizing what they’ve done in the past. This is a story about how bad seeds can poison those around them, and it’s a good one.
As I said, each brother gets his own part prior to the end. These parts are broken up into accounts from different years’ events. Some occurred during the 70s, some during the 80s, some during the 90s and others during more recent times. The dates aren’t in chronological order, but it still works well. It’s also very interesting to see how each character perceived certain things.
The writing is also quite good, although it may bother you if you don’t like first-person narratives. A lot of the sentences begin with I, but that’s because of the way the story is being told. It can get a bit repetitive, but it’s done on purpose.
With all that being said, I must admit that I loved this book more than I’d even hoped to. It surpassed all of my expectations, and makes me want to read more of Liz Nugent’s work. I do, however, wish that the last couple of pages had been left out, because they were unnecessary and didn’t help things. Due to that, I’m going to give this book 4.5 stars or the equivalent.
Don’t sleep on Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent!
This review is based on a copy of the book that we were provided with. Thanks to NetGalley and its publisher. Receiving it for free did not affect our review or review score.