April 24, 2011


by Simon Lelic
294 pages, Picador

Review by Marc Nash

Rupture is Simon Lelic's debut novel. Another story about a spree shooting in a school. But this time it's a teacher who goes on the rampage. It's skillfully wrought, alternating chapters between witness accounts with those focusing on the female detective leading the case. She's a complex character, suffering a parallel set of pressures to those also at play behind the shooting itself.

The witnesses range from other kids, teachers, the headmaster, the bereaved. Each has a distinct voice and each is shown to have their own unique view of events. Many are shown to be guilt ridden, even when they have nothing to answer for, but Lelic deftly shows their own failings and vulnerabilities that leave them a co-dependent feeding off the horror to their own detriment. They are highly credible, caught up in something way beyond their comprehension, struggling to make any sense of things. Lelic refuses to tie things up with a bow and provide a simple resolution. He balances the individual psychology of each character with the social pressures or position they represent. I haven't read "The Slap" by Christos Tsiolkas which made the Booker long-list last year, since one of the things that put me off was that each character sounded like they were there to represent a social position or view. Lelic avoids this I think by keeping the humanity central.

If the cast of characters are well delineated, the murderer-suicide himself remains opaque. The mounting pressures on him are clearly described, but he himself as a rookie teacher turning up to his first job is not bedded down sufficiently to erect the subsequent journey he takes upon. I found this to be true of "We Need To Talk About Kevin", where Kevin himself remains a closed book, no matter how superlative the portrayal of his mother throughout the rest of the book. Maybe it is not possible to get inside the head of such characters.

So I'm slightly in two minds about this book. It is a very good read. The support cast are highly credible, but it is another novel about school shootings and another impenetrable mass murderer. It's odd that since here in the UK gun spree slayings are less common than America, I think there is perhaps room for such a study. But to Americans who have had to endure far more instances of these type of events, then possibly not.

One thing I did object to in my edition was a ridiculous section at the end "a reader's guide" - points for discussion. It lists 15 questions, ostensibly to demonstrate the book's ability to represent several divergent viewpoints without spoon feeding the reader, but actually comes across as just like a school English Literature comprehension test. I felt mildly insulted. But I didn't resort to picking up my gun and busting a cap in anyone.

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