Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Rupture by Simon Lelic

Rupture is such an apt title for this book. It’s about the huge rupture caused when a supposedly mild mannered history teacher walks into his school assembly armed with a gun and shoots three pupils, a colleague and then himself. This isn’t giving anything away as this is all revealed within the first chapter; the rest of the book is concerned with the reasons why Samuel Szajkowski did this, what drove him to such a radical act.

In the sense that there is a lead detective assigned to the case, this would appear to be a straightforward police procedural type story. But since there is no mystery as to who committed the crime, there is no apparent case to solve. The whole school witnessed the shooting, and it is apparent fairly early on that Louisa May, the investigator, is expected to wrap up the case fairly swiftly, leaving the press and public to declare what a horrific tragedy it was, and vilify the perpetrator of the crime. I don’t think it gives too much away to say that she doesn’t see it that way, and risks her career to pursue the idea that there may be other factors to consider when apportioning blame for the crime, and unearths a lot of other issues in the process. The book itself doesn’t actually present a definite answer, although I think there was a slight bias towards one side of the argument than the other, but does raise a number of issues worthy of thought. However, the brilliance of this book is in the telling, specifically in the way the events preceding the tragedy are revealed.

Some of the chapters are straight linear narratives of what Louisa is doing, thinking and the way the ideas are developing in her mind. But her thought processes are guided by the interviews she conducted with key witnesses in the school, and these transcripts are provided in full which makes for a very interesting reading experience. As readers, we almost come to the same conclusions as Louisa, at the same time, making this a very interactive read. It is also interesting to see the different character’s attitudes to the incident, and in what appear to be quite in-depth investigations, see their reactions to the slightly odd-ball, and mild mannered history teacher from the moment he joined the school. For example, it is clear from her discussion with the school headmaster that he is not an altogether pleasant man;

“He asks for a glass of water. I have not offered but he asks for one anyway. I have Janet bring one in and he thanks her, rather obsequiously. He takes a swig and then seems unsure of what to do with the glass He makes a motion towards my desk but then changes his mind. In the end he just clutches it in his lap. I can tell he regrets asking for it but I do not offer to take it from him. I do not see why I should have to.”

In fact, although this is only a short book, with a reasonably large array of characters, the author does a fantastic job of giving them all their own personalities and traits even though we only hear from each of them once, with casual references to them in other peoples conversations. Curiously, Samuel is the most discussed person in the book, yet he seems to be the person we know least about.

With the main theme of the book being whether anyone else can be culpable when such a horrific tragedy occurs, it is amazing how many other issues the author manages to pack into just over three hundred pages. Through the development of the story, it is clear that bullying is a major issue, both staff bullying staff, pupils bullying pupils, and even pupils bullying staff. And Louisa herself appears to be the victim of workplace bullying by her colleagues (mainly male). How much bullying should be tolerated in a community environment, and exactly when somebody should step in is an issue prominent throughout the book. I think at the end of the book, we do have a little more insight into why Samuel did what he did, although I still find it difficult to understand. I did appreciate the way this book gives a whole background to such a tragic event, and queries the natural reaction to just vilify the perpetrator, whilst all the time questioning the institutions that assist in this, both as organisations and the individual people concerned. There some very unpleasant authority figures in this book, and their actions are very hard to justify.

I think it’s fairly obvious by now that I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the structure more than anything else, and I think it is a really interesting way to tell a story. At times events or incidents were mentioned which as readers we had no knowledge about, and although they were explained fairly soon, the slight tension created whilst waiting for an explanation was what kept me reading. I think a quote that comes very early in the book sums it up quite nicely;

“History is what it is. It can’t predict the future, but it can hep us understand who we are, where we’re from. History is all about context, he says, and without context, all meaning is lost.”

7 comments:

Amy said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I will be curious to hear what you have to say about Middlesex, as that was a book that stuck with me for a long time.

farmlanebooks said...

I loved this book! It is great to see another blogger reading it as it has had so little coverage :-( I really hope that this post will persuade a few more people to read this book as I'd love it to reach a wider audience.

Jo said...

Amy, I'm about half way through and so far, I'm loving Middlesex, but I m struggling to find time to read it. My reading is in short bursts at the moment, and Middlesex is something I need to commit large chunks of time too, which I don't have right now! Maybe at the weekend.

Jackie, You're right, it definitely does deserve a wider audience. I've passed it on to my sister. She'd love it, but she seems to have an aversion to reading anything I suggest, so I'm not holding my breath!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I see you are reading Middlesex, an all time favorite book of mine --ENJOY

anothercookiecrumbles said...

Think I read this book about a year ago and thought it was amazing. It kind-of reminded me of We Need To Talk About Kevin, but just a different side of shootings and the psychology, and considering the number of school shootings we hear about now-a-days, it's almost scary.

Love the new blog look as well, by the way!

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