In another debut for 2010, Simon Lelic’s Rupture concerns a school shooting in London. Teacher Samuel Szajkowksi walks into the school assembly opening fire and killing three pupils and a colleague, before taking his own life. The policewoman assigned to the case, Lucia May, is expected to wrap it up quickly and quietly because the perpetrator is clearly identified, with no margin for error. But as May collects statements from witnesses and others associated with the school, she becomes both defiant and intrepid in her determination to seek the truth of the reason for the crime. Szajkowksi was a mild-mannered man, a bit of a mouse, and May wants to discover what provoked him to commit such a heinous act. Was he really a psychopath, or was there something more going on to explain his actions?
Rupture makes for an absorbing, compelling and challenging read. In the case of the latter, it is not only the subject matter but also the novel’s highly original style that throws up the challenge. Many of the chapters are laid out in the form of one-sided dialogue from the witnesses as their statements to the police are recorded. As they introduce further characters, the narrative presents a jigsaw puzzle for the reader to put together, as well as for our protagonist, May.
Characterisation is rich and full on as each witness’s voice rises from the page. The opening paragraph holds a wonderful taster of what is come, from one the school’s serial truants:
“I wasn’t there. I didn’t see it. Me and Banks were down by the ponds, pissing about with this Sainsbury’s trolley we found on the common. We were late already so we decided to ditch. Get in, Banks says. You get in, I say. In the end, I get in. I’m always the one getting in. He pushes me for a bit over the field but the wheels keep seizing up, even though the grass is short and it hasn’t rained in a month. Sainsbury’s trolleys are shit. There’s a Waitrose just opened up where the Safeway used to be and their trolleys are built like Volkswagens. Sainsbury’s get theirs from France or Italy or Korea or something. They’re like Daewoos. Although Ming says Daewoo means fuck yourself in Chinese, which is the only reason I’d ever buy one.”
May’s own life in the police force is tainted as she is the victim of bullying from members of her own team and her boss. As she refuses to give up her enquiries, she starts to discover that Szajkowksi’s life reflected her own and nothing is simple, or as perceived on the surface. For me, one area that could have been further explored in the novel was May’s feelings for her experiences; we have much of her reaction, but not enough of how she actually felt. Was she feeling like a fighter or acting viscerally as a victim as she suffered both verbal and physical assaults?
Rupture is novel that superbly depicts crime in contemporary life, and its impact on victims. This reality is carried through to its dénouement, where much dirty laundry of city life is aired along the way, all too publicly and to great impact. And after the wash, you are left with the feeling that all cannot be made fully clean again. Simon Lelic is one to watch.