Paul's Reviews > A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic
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's review
Nov 16, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, fiction, four-star-plus
Read from October 23 to November 04, 2012

Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl, Shipbreaker, The Drowned Cities) blows me away; when he commented on Twitter he was reading someone named Simon Lelic I made a beeline for the library. And by great good luck my local had a copy of A Thousand Cuts, Lelic's debut novel.

Ostensibly this is a murder mystery about a British police inspector investigating a school shooting. The shooter, a first-year teacher, fired upon students and faculty at an assembly, killing three students, a colleague, and then himself. Much of the story unfolds through witness statements collected by the inspector, but as she gets more involved with the case some of the chapters describe her working and personal life.

Very quickly, I realized this was a story about bullying. It is endemic at the school and ignored ... no, tolerated, even encouraged ... by the headmaster. The new teacher, the man who finally snapped, was the subject of particularly brutal bullying, unable to stand up to it, and unable to get anyone to take action against the bullies, student or faculty. What initially appears to be an open and shut case suddenly appears less so when it emerges that a bullied student had been brutally attacked, and part of his face cut off with a knife, just a few days before the shooting. The inspector tries to get at the bottom of the sickness infecting the school, but her superiors just want her to go away. As we get into the personal and working life of the inspector, we learn that she herself is the frequent target of a male colleague's bullying.

It is Simon Lelic's gift to be able to show readers how intimidating and awful sustained bullying can be, how it can rob life of all pleasure and inspire a daily sense of dread in adult and child victims alike. I count myself lucky I haven't encountered much of this sort of thing in my life; Lelic is convincing enough that I now believe I understand why some victims of bullying commit suicide.

I'm not just impressed with Lelic's story. I'm impressed with his writing. Those witness statements I alluded to earlier rival the best of Elmore Leonard's inspired dialog. Lelic has a great ear. I had the hardest time putting this book down for even the most urgent breaks; I would literally take it to the bathroom with me. I skipped meals in order to keep reading.

In short, A Thousand Cuts is gobsmackingly good. Simon Lelic joins Paolo Bacigalupi and David Mitchell on my short list of buy-everything-they-write authors.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Lea (new)

Lea Your review is wonderful, as always, and the book sounds very good, but I doubt I will ever have the courage to read it -- very difficult subject matter.

Abby OK, you convinced me to put it on reserve.

Ashlea Stark Spot on mate, absolutely spot on.

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