Literary Fiction Mystery Thriller

Our Little Cruelties – Liz Nugent

14 February 2020
Little Cruelties Book Cover Little Cruelties
Liz Nugent
Penguin Books
March 26, 2020

Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin. Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother's love, but she is unable and unwilling to love all of them. As adults, the competition continues. One brother always has what another one wants - status, money, success, a woman, the love of a child, his mother's attention. But maybe there's a chance to even things up. Perhaps with one brother gone there would be more to go around. Which will it be?


A psychological drama that paints the most magnificently crafted characters with family interactions that are fascinating, absorbing and downright shocking. The Drumm family, led by the mother Melissa with her three sons, Will, Brian and Luke, seem to be adept at handing out little cruelties (or not so little) to everyone around them, especially each other. A seriously dysfunctional family that has lived the dream in the media industry and paid a heavy price for it.

The story starts at the funeral of one of the brothers, not to be revealed until the end, although the suggestion is that one of the other brothers is responsible for the death.

“Three is an odd number so there had always been two against one, although we all switched sides regularly. Nobody would ever have described us as close.”

There are four distinct parts to the book, the first three parts see each of the brothers tell their story from childhood hopping about through time. The fourth part is a backwards and forwards interplay with each brother as the pace mounts to the incident we’ve been waiting for. This is masterfully written by Liz Nugent and her skill abounds as she deftly controls the narrative, the plot and the multiple perspectives on decisive moments.

Our Little Cruelties is a monument to character development, full of light and shade, complex personalities, and psychological turmoil, which is just mind-blowing in its scope. Melissa is a narcissist that is cruel in her selective treatment of her children, with Will being her favourite and no attempt is made to hide it, especially from Luke whom she almost hates. Will is a film producer, self-centred, a womaniser, and a family man to Susan and his daughter Daisy. Brian is mean, ruthless, always looking to screw someone out of money, and defrauds his younger brother Luke out of his house, all while representing him during his popstar days. Luke has a natural media chemistry, a look, and a voice that rockets him to the top of the charts although he is a drug addict, alcoholic and suffers from deep mental health issues. Luke is the self-destructive guy that your heart bleeds for because deep down he is loving, kind, forgiving, vulnerable and lonely, he struggles throughout his life in the knowledge that his mother made it abundantly clear she didn’t care for him.

The fabulous way the book is written enables major incidents in the brothers’ lives to have a unique perspective from each brother and the unreliable accounts stemming from each twisted personality provides multiple lenses that entice us to look deeper into what actually happened. The turbulence of their lives is fascinating but if I have one criticism is that the achievements and circumstances the brothers find themselves in, covers everything life could throw at mankind and the sheer volume of it lessens the believability. I’m not sure this will be an issue for everyone but it just didn’t feel perfect for me.

This is a book to be treasured from an amazing author and I would recommend reading it. I rate the book 4.5 stars and I would like to thank Penguin Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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