Brilliantly structured, fluently told, Liz Nugent’s best book yet
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‘What a terrific storyteller Liz Nugent (above) is! Photograph Phillip Massey/Getty
“All three of the Drumm brothers were at the funeral, although one of us was in a coffin.” Liz Nugent’s new novel, Our Little Cruelties (Penguin, £13.99) tells the story of how they got there: sleazy, abusive film producer Will, troubled, addictive rock star Luke, and stingy, manipulative talent agent Brian. Maybe they never had a chance, with a mother like former showband chanteuse and TV soap star Melissa Craig (the first Melissa in Ireland, one of her sons reckons: she changed it from Moll when she went into showbusiness and married up). A towering narcissist who can’t even fake love for her youngest son, she is a magnificently monstrous presence in the novel, and a valuable new acquisition for Nugent’s Gallery of Bad Mothers.
Each of the brothers takes a turn at narration, ranging back and forth from their 70s childhoods to the recent past; the effect feels like table hopping at a dysfunctional family funeral. “The awful thing in life is, everyone has their reasons,” Jean Renoir’s great line from The Rules of the Game, could serve as an epigraph to the book. Vulnerable, unstable Luke’s rise to stardom via early gigs at the Baggot Inn and the Olympia is superbly done; Will’s drive and charm are as persuasive as his reflexive sexism and predatory behaviour are disturbing; Brian’s middle-child victimhood breeds a meanness that mutates into blithely entitled extortion. It all adds up to a bleak domestic saga studded with set-piece events that mark social history milestones of the last 50 years, from the Pope’s visit, at which Melissa sings Ave Maria, through Bob Dylan’s concert at Slane, the scene of much turbulence, culminating in the marriage equality referendum, where granddaughter Daisy’s anthemic song rounds out the decades with (false) hope.