Brad Hodges's Reviews > A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic
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Mar 14, 11

Read from March 07 to 14, 2011

I don't know if I've recently read a book as unrelentingly grim as A Thousand Cuts, by Simon Lelic (well, not since I read Box 21 last fall). The latter was about the trafficking of prostitutes, this one is a much more immediate and universal topic--school bullying.

There is a difference here, though. Lelic has structured his book around a crime, but it's a teacher taking a gun and shooting up a school assembly. Detective Inspector Lucia May investigates the case, and as she interviews witnesses (alternating chapters feature the voices of the witnesses, unadorned) she finds that the teacher was himself bullied.

Two parallels run alongside the case. At the same school, a young boy is mercilessly teased and beaten to the point of suicide. May comes to blame the school and its arrogant headmaster for both crimes, for ignoring the signs. The second parallel is May's own torment at the hands of a colleague who sexually harasses her.

The book is polemical and who can disagree with the author's point? But I have some reservations. It appears that the book is set in England, but I was never completely sure, and I also assume it's set in the present. Therefore I have a hard time believing a school could so blithely ignore bullying to the point of a child going to a hospital. More unbelievable is that May has no recourse to the sexual harassment. I only have American standards to go by, but no one could get away with that kind of treatment here, especially in a public service job.

Beyond that, the book is so heavy in its grief and outrage that it was very unpleasant to read. Lelic never allows his prose to breathe--every character seems to be at the edge of despair, if not over it, except for the guy who sexually harasses May, and he's a caricature. At one point he sends her an envelope full of pubic hair. Now tell me, how many women would receive that and not turn the guy in, especially if she was a policewoman?

Lastly, there's no real mystery to this book. We simply read through to see if the characters set up as monsters get any justice, and the filler is just not compelling enough to make it a good read.
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Jennie As an aside, I've been just as ruthlessly bullied as some of Lelic's characters -- sexually harassed, for instance, and then punished by administrators for protecting myself. The same administrators who asked, two months before, why I didn't defend myself if the advances were so unwanted when a stalker did things like put pubic hair on my food.

Also, you'd think that someone trained in law would have recourse. Not as such. I've worked under lawyers (I'm a law student) who are known to harass and rape female interns, who have no recourse unless they want to sabotage their own careers. Lelic's point was not only about bullying, but about the "Old Boys Club" of institutions like police forces and schools that reward violent masculinity and torment anyone who is insufficiently masculine (or female).

So yes, as someone who's been sexually harassed/assaulted by public service people, and people supposed to have been supervised by public service people, I can tell you that people "get away" with that kind of treatment all the time in America.


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