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Why would a school teacher walk into a packed assembly hall and shoot two pupils and a colleague before turning the gun on himself? Detective Inspector Lucia May wants to find out but her bosses and the headmaster of the school seem happy enough to believe that this was just a moment of madness in the life of a loner. Lucia manages to negotiate a few days grace before she must submit her report and starts to interview those who knew the gunman. As her investigation progresses Lucia puts together a shocking picture of a man tormented to the very brink.
Simon Lelic's debut novel is a dramatic and, at times, highly moving, look at bullying, more precisely institutional bullying, and asks the question how far are organizations responsible for the behaviour of their members. If that sounds weighty and too philosophical that's a disservice to the author who has chosen such an interesting way of presenting the story - and telling it so expertly - that the reader is sucked into the story instantly and is carried along on a wave of first intrigue and later anger.
The narration alternates between Lucia's perspective of the investigation - a conventional third person narrative - and a series of interviews given to Lucia by witnesses of the shooting and people who knew the school teacher Samuel Szajkowski. With each new account the sketchy outline of the story is given more detail; in fact, the first statement is almost entirely hearsay, coming from a pupil who was truanting at the time of the incident. Using so many different voices to tell the story could become tiresome or confusing but happily, turns out to be neither. Each character is so well captured that it doesn't take long to become engrossed in the next interview. The interviews are presented as monologues so, although we don't get to hear directly what the questions are or how the speaker is being prompted, we can get the gist of it from the speakers responses. As Lucia has more interviews to work on, so to of course do you, the reader; just when you think you've made your mind up, a new witness makes you think again.
Simon Lelic is clearly a talent to watch; in particular, the skill with which he creates such strong characters from short monologues is remarkable. There are no superfluous details yet the overall effect is richly vivid. A sub plot showing how Lucia is the victim of intense bullying at her own workplace is handled less well and the ending is undeniably clunky but ultimately this is gripping stuff and it's chillingly frighteningly realistic. Lelic tackles various issues but manages to keep entertainment as his top priority while still providing plenty to think about.
A breathtaking debut.
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk under the author name Mary Bor
Based on a review I read here, I have just finished reading Simon Lelic's debut novel called "Rupture" - which I literally couldn't put down. I found it totally absorbing and compelling and its a great example of how brilliant story telling can be.
At its heart, the book is about bullying and the epic and traumatic toll that bullying can take on its victims. Many people feel that bullying is an expected facet of childhood - and therefore its largely tolerated to some degree within our society....and yet the consequences of bullying can be far reaching and devastating - both for child victims as well as for adult victims.
This book centers on Samuel Szajkowski - a history teacher - who walks into his schools assembly and open fires, killing three children and one teacher - before turning the gun on himself. Five people are dead and Detective Lucia May is charged with investigating the shooting and essentially wrapping it up into a neat little package. Her superiors believe this is an open and shut case, but as Lucia delves into the witness statements, she becomes uncomfortable with what she finds and believes that there may be people besides Samuel who are culpable. Samuel himself was the victim of constant and consistent bullying and we are left pondering what role this played in his decision to open fire.
As you are reading the book, I found my shift in sympathy shifting from thinking Samuel was the worst kind of monster, to actually having a great deal of sympathy for what he suffered. Of course, nothing excuses or justifies his actions to kill others and then to turn the gun on himself, but reading through the witness statements provides some insight into why a supposedly mild mannered and dedicated teacher could turn into one of the monsters we see depicted on the news all too frequently. What is it that leads them to commit such an awful act? Is it because they are evil - or is it because they've been driven to it?
I really liked how the book didn't really reach any definitive conclusion for us but instead left me reaching the conclusion that there is always a story behind the headline. It is only when we delve into the psychological make up of a person that we can truly understand them and have any semblence of idea about what makes them tick. Having read the book, I am 99.9% certain that Samuel would never have walked into that school assembly and created the carnage he did.....he was pushed and pushed....but still, ultimately, we cannot condone his actions - and yet maybe to some extent we can understand them?
I love the way this book is written....switching between following the thoughts and actions of Lucia and then being introduced into the world of the other characters through the reading their witness statements. We hear from the children, the other teachers, the head teacher....basically everyone who played a part in Samuel's downfall. I felt a little uncomfortable when I read some of the people's actions, but the worst part was when I read bits in someone's statement that I could identify with myself. For example, the part where Samuel is being mimicked and the whole class is laughing....who of us haven't been in a group and laughed at the expense of someone else.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Its an easy read in terms of language, although of course some of the subject matter is tough to get through.
"Rupture" is journalist-turned-author Simon Lelic's debut novel and I think it's fair to say he has gotten off to a flyer. It offers an exploration into the psychology of bullying and the fundamental flaws in human nature that allow for such cruelty to occur by plunging us deep in the middle of a tragedy that is becoming sadly all too familiar.
On what seems like just any other ordinary school day, history teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into morning assembly and opens fire on the unsuspecting congregation killing three students and a teacher before taking his own life. Was it really just an unpreventable tragedy or is there something more sinister lurking in the background?
Policewoman Lucia May, charged with investigating the crime, becomes convinced that the incident could have avoidable as she ekes out the stories of those affected and begins to feel that the root cause may lie beyond Szajkowski. But can she make anyone believe that it was anything other than the work of a lunatic monster and lay the blame at the feet of those deserving?
Having read the premise of the book I knew straight away it was one that would interest me as it was clearly aiming to touch upon a deeply sensitive subject from a very different viewpoint than we are probably used to seeing. Whenever one of these horrific tragedies hits the media (thankfully very infrequently in this country...a little more so in America perhaps...) e.g. a crazed gunman enters a school and begins to indiscriminately fire at will before turning the gun on himself we are naturally sickened. The media will inevitably pounce on this by printing unflattering pictures of the perpetrator with manic eyes to which we are probably all guilty of saying something like "God yeah, you can see it in his eyes - he's just got that look about him!".
But is it really all as black and white as that? For me, anyone that can do something so heinous as to take innocent lives before doing the most cowardly thing by killing themselves thus preventing those left behind from getting any remote sense of justice can't be anything other than deeply disturbed and certainly nothing will ever forgive their actions. But the fact is it seems impossible to understand the mindset of these people that can commit these inexplicably senseless acts, to find the flashpoint that could cause them to snap, so until we understand what causes this we will never understand why.
This is the type of situation "Rupture" is exploring in trying to find a reason for such a deplorable act as the one described and, whilst it will not apply to every situation like this, it does give food for thought as to how such a tragedy could occur and how the responsibility may not lie with just the perpetrator as we'd all so readily like to believe. In actual fact "Rupture" reaches out to issues even further than this one seemingly isolated attack and ends up focusing on one central theme of bullying through several different ways that it can occur in both childhood and adulthood situations whilst being equally damaging.
What I particularly like about this book is that it is not really trying to reach any conclusions about the cause of or find any solutions to this rather scary side of human nature that can allow the dishing out of relentless cruelty to a vulnerable target, in some cases for nothing other than sport. This, of course, would be a gargantuan and probably fruitless task, so this book merely looks to highlight many different situations which are definite, but not always recognised, forms of bullying and the far reaching consequences of said bullying so we, as the reader, are allowed to draw our own conclusions.
The style of the book is also quite intriguing as seemingly a way to drip-feed us the events of the plot to allow slow development over time as we are treated to different viewpoints and how this one tragic event can appear so different depending on the perspective. By simply putting these viewpoints across with no hint of persuasion it is possible to recreate a point of view for Szajkowski and in doing so see beyond the hideous crime he committed and actually feel a tiny bit of sympathy for him, which is quite an achievement in my opinion as it was not something I expected to feel once I started reading the book!
The story starts with a transcript of a one-sided police interview of an unknown schoolboy talking about how they heard about the shooting of the school. From then on chapters are intermingled with firstly those from Lucia's point of view written in the third person and following her present timeline and secondly with more one-sided police interviews from various witnesses and teachers. The clever part is Lucia's timeline takes place after she has finished her investigation and the interviews from before this timeline are dropped in bit by bit giving us new information and perspectives to coincide with Lucia's thoughts which could well alter your opinions as the story progresses.
Lucia is herself a very complex character and without giving too much away is herself a victim of bullying. She has both a strong sense of moral duty and a belief in what is right and will go to extreme lengths to uphold this belief, but is also an incredibly vulnerable and lonely individual which makes her a prime candidate for potential victimisation. Her personal evolution throughout the book is important in holding the story together and it is through her that all these different forms of bullying are discovered and delved into through her interactions with those associated with the shooting and by extension those involved in other incidents.
The stories and perspectives from other characters including the headmaster of the school, a school bully, some of the teachers and parents are all pulled together to create a bigger picture and as a result three very distinct roles emerge: the victim; the bully and the bystander. Through the interactions between these three different roles in several different situations we can see a similar pattern appear which gives some insight into the true destructive power of bullying. I think the biggest and most important thing that comes out of this exploration is that it is not just the bullies themselves that cause most damage, but that those that have a responsibility to prevent it, but choose to look the other way, should also shoulder the blame but more often than not escape this.
As a warning I would say some of the incidents of bullying are quite disturbing in this book and do lead to some very upsetting scenes so this book is definitely not for the faint hearted or sensitive sorts, but I feel that this kind of shock tactic is very necessary to get the true severity of bullying to really hit home and force you to reflect upon it as objectively as possible. These scenes depicted are not overly graphic for the most part, but I personally felt it was the scary degree of cruelty that went unchecked that made them so shocking and thought provoking.
"Rupture" is a book which for me acts purely as an exploration tool into the disturbing world of bullying in any form it can take. It simply gives us a chance to look at an incident from all angles and to decide for ourselves what conclusions and observations we draw from it. Whilst this book in no way attempts to actually do so, it highlights a great need for change in perception and it is only by collective awareness in society that this will ever be achieved...and I can't personally see it happening anytime soon...so for now it is good enough to make you think a little outside the box to try to understand how bullying can happen and maybe even look closer at situations in your own life to make sure you're not missing something.
A rather impressive and thoughtful debut novel.