I literally read Rupture
in one sitting: decided to start it at a quarter to midnight because I couldn't sleep, and finally turned the light off at 3am after turning the last page. So I don't need to point out that it's compelling. Ostensibly, this is a crime novel; the story of a man called Samuel Szajkowski, a young history teacher who one day carries a gun into his school and kills three pupils and a fellow teacher before shooting himself. It's also the story of Lucia May, the police inspector assigned to the case, who - unlike everyone else around her - doesn't see the shooting as an open-and-shut case, and increasingly comes to believe that it could have been prevented. The narrative takes the form of a series of witness statements, told exactly as they are related (dialect, slang, swearing and all) rather than as conversations, alternated with third-person chapters observing Lucia's efforts to uncover the truth.
What the book is really about - for me, at least - is bullying. This is a constant, very strong, theme running throughout the story. As Lucia investigates, she discovers that Samuel was the victim of merciless bullying by his pupils. She also takes an interest in the case of Elliot, a boy tormented so severely he is hospitalised and later commits suicide. Donovan - the ringleader of the persecution of both Samuel and Elliot, and one of the pupils Samuel murders - at first appears to be an almost demonically horrible figure, but through the witness statements, Lelic subtly shows us Donovan's awful background and miserable family life, and how his father is also a bully. Meanwhile, the experience of the students and Samuel is mirrored in the treatment Lucia herself suffers at the hands of a horrendously misogynistic colleague, Walter. The unifying theme of all these experiences is negligence, lack of action by those in the best position to take it. The school, personified by bullish headmaster Travis, dismisses the bullying and sweeps Elliot's injuries under the carpet; some of the teachers, particularly oafish PE teacher TJ (the kind of man who imagines the pupils see him as 'one of the lads') join in the mocking of Samuel; Lucia is offered no support at work and is taken off the case when she fails to conform to the viewpoint expected of her. As Lucia pieces together the circumstances that led to Samuel's attack and Elliot's suicide, she starts to see exactly how much those in authority are accountable for the victims' suffering.
This book struck a particular chord with me because I too was bullied at a school that turned a blind eye and prioritised its reputation and image over the obvious suffering of some of its pupils. A number of other reviewers have argued that the extent of the bullying is unrealistic, that nobody would get away with this behaviour; in my opinion, it's all too believable. Lelic does a fantastic job of highlighting how powerless the victims find themselves and how routinely they are let down. Samuel tries to speak out and ask for help on numerous occasions, only to be ridiculed by a headmaster who dismisses the very idea that an adult could be intimidated by teenagers. When things come to a head for Lucia, as she reads the text messages that drove Elliot to kill himself, the conclusions she has drawn from what she's seen - and the message of the book - are crystallised in a particularly striking passage:
More than alone, Elliot had been forsaken. Why should he have had to ask for help? Why had help not been forthcoming? It was no secret, after all. Those who had the power to intervene: they knew. Why was the onus always on the weak when it was the strong who had liberty to act? Why were the weak obliged to be so brave when the strong had licence to behave like such cowards?
The book isn't perfect. I disliked the chapter that consisted almost entirely of dialogue between Lucia and her arrogant, sleazy ex-boyfriend, Philip, who seemed to me a very misjudged character (if I'm right in assuming he was supposed to be likeable). Walter was so
unremittingly horrible that he sometimes felt like a caricature. There were moments of awkwardness and underdevelopment, though there were some outstanding passages (see above) and the witness statements worked well and felt authentic - not an easy feat with so many individual voices to create. Overall, this is much more than a generic crime novel. It's an extremely powerful story which makes you think and asks difficult questions - some, perhaps, impossible to answer. The method of its delivery is both original and effective. I picked this up after reading good reviews, half-expecting it to be dull because I'm not a great fan of police procedurals. If you're the same, I urge you to seek it out - you will enjoy this book more than you'd expect - and if you're into crime fiction, it should go on your must-read list.