Review: A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic

I read this book because Maxine told me to (and even sent me her copy because she is so lovely). I have learned (the hard way) to listen to her and only to her :)

As the book opens we learn there has been a shooting at a London school and that three students, a teacher and the gunman are dead. Lucia May is the police Detective assigned the case but everyone, including her boss and the school’s headmaster, assumes she will wrap it up neatly and quickly. However as she interviews those connected to the shooting she unravels the thousands of moments of bullying and torment that led to the shooting and realises it’s not an open and shut case.

Most of the short chapters in the book are a succession of the interviewee’s sides of Lucia’s discussions with those connected to the shooting including students, parents and teachers. Although we jump quickly from one voice to another I never once had difficulty in working out who was talking or following the action. The different perspectives are depicted cleverly, without gimmickry of any kind and are stunningly realistic. Some of them hit me like a punch to the stomach while others made me weep with sadness. But despite being knocked around by the conflicting emotions I simply could not stop reading.

Interspersed along the way are more traditional narrative chapters told from Lucia’s perspective though these have no less emotional impact. As the sole woman in a squad of men all but one of whom continuously tease her about things like being raped, participate in gross practical ‘jokes’ at her expense and physically torment her, Lucia’s working life is unbearable. The cloying sense of dread that she feels whenever she has to interact with her colleagues is, again, incredibly realistic. She is demonstrably affected by her situation physically and psychologically but, perhaps because there are parallels between her circumstances and the events that led to the shooting, she perseveres with her investigation.

In one sense this book is an easy read being relatively short and not, to me anyway, appearing to have a single unnecessary word. It flows beautifully and is truly compelling. In terms of content however it’s hard going. The violence of the shooting is not described in graphic detail but the violence, fear and torment prevalent in this community is portrayed in the written equivalent of full colour so that you can’t just read and forget. These people and this story will stay with me for a long time.

One of the (many) things that saddens me about the state of modern media is that coverage of real-world events like the one that is the subject of A Thousand Cuts is so superficial. For a couple of days there is outraged coverage about guns/bad parenting/heavy metal music/government regulations or whatever other nonsense is decreed as the evil of the day. After that, after the blame has been laid at the feet of some object or person far removed from ‘normal’ society all is forgotten. What Lelic has done is show how implausible it is that any such event could ever be so clearly linked to a simple identifiable cause and that it’s far more likely that we’re all responsible because of the things we do or say, and the things we don’t do or say, every day.

A Thousand Cuts is beautiful, intimate and sad. Read it.

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My rating 5/5

Publisher Viking [2010]; ISBN 9780670021505; Length 294 pages

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A Thousand Cuts has the title Rupture in the UK, with one or other title the book has been reviewed at Euro Crime (by the aforementioned Maxine), Reading Matters,  Reviewing the EvidenceIt’s A Crime (Or A Mystery)