by Simon Lelic
‘A typical first novel… Very good, quite gripping and strangely not at all depressing for such bleak subject matter…. Slow moving at first, with far too much dialogue…. Great first half – really pacy with engaging characters…. Characters not as well rounded as I would have liked.’
No, your reviewer has not developed a split personality. Rather, these are just some of the responses of my Brighton-based book group to local lad Simon Lelic’s well-reviewed debut, Rupture.
Set in a long, hot summer of ‘anytown, UK,’ Rupture tells of Samuel Szajkowski, a seemingly mild-mannered history teacher with murder on his mind. For it soon transpires that Szajkowski has walked into school assembly and killed three children and one teacher stone dead, before meting out his own punishment: suicide by gun. Lucia May is the young policewoman sent to tie up the investigation into the killings, and to tie it up fast; the powers that be want the whole affair buried post-haste. This, all suspensefully related through an imaginative mixed bran tub of voices – sometimes narrated in the third person through the eyes of Lucia, elsewhere through the testimonies of the school’s teachers and pupils.
But, although impressively disparate, it is Lelic’s cocktail of characterisation which split opinion in our discussion of Rupture the most. ‘A shaky portrayal of a woman's inner thoughts,’ one of our number said. ‘An impressive array of voices – young and old, male and female,’ said another. Thematically, the book had us more unified. Perhaps the most interesting aspect, we thought, was the teacher’s eye view of the bullying culture in schools, and of staffroom politics. Thinking of going into teaching? Think again, when you learn that Szajkowski had been ‘tripped, shoved, abused, hounded, spat at.’ The slow unveiling of Szajkowski’s motives for the murders is perhaps the book’s biggest strength.
Unfortunately for Lelic, though, the culture of bullying which was the moral panic of yesterday, has now been overtaken by that of menacing urban foxes; tomorrow no doubt by something else. This gives Rupture a somewhat ‘yesterday’s news’ feel. Yet plot, drama and suspense do compensate for this (moral outrages are, after all, the media’s, not the author’s, fault), and in the general the book gets a big thumbs up from our Brighton Belles book group.
‘Will you remember his name? In a week. In a month. In a year. Will you remember his name?’ the back cover blurb of the hard cover edition asks us of Samuel Szajkowski. Well, perhaps not. But will we remember an intriguing debut which inspired a fiery red-wine fuelled discussion? Certainly. And if that’s what floats your own book group’s boat, we recommend you give this ‘whydunnit’ a go and have a heated debate of your own.
Nina de la Mer