Our Kind of Cruelty (Hall)

Our Kind of Cruelty 
Araminta Hall, 2018
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
288 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780374228194


Summary
A spellbinding, darkly twisted novel about desire and obsession, and the complicated lines between truth and perception, Our Kind of Cruelty introduces Araminta Hall, a chilling new voice in psychological suspense.

This is a love story. Mike’s love story.

Mike Hayes fought his way out of a brutal childhood and into a quiet, if lonely, life before he met Verity Metcalf. V taught him about love, and in return, Mike has dedicated his life to making her happy.

He’s found the perfect home, the perfect job; he’s sculpted himself into the physical ideal V has always wanted. He knows they’ll be blissfully happy together.

It doesn’t matter that she hasn’t been returning his e-mails or phone calls.
It doesn’t matter that she says she’s marrying Angus.

It’s all just part of the secret game they used to play. If Mike watches V closely, he’ll see the signs. If he keeps track of her every move, he’ll know just when to come to her rescue. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Araminta Hall has worked as a writer, journalist and teacher. Her first novel, Everything & Nothing, was published in 2011 and became a Richard & Judy read that year. Her second, Dot, came out in 2013. Both were published in the U.K. only. Our Kind of Cruelty, releaed in 2018, is her first novel published in the U.S.

Hall teaches creative writing at New Writing South in Brighton, where she lives with her husband and three children. Her latest book, Our Kind of Cruelty, is a deeply unsettling thriller of a love story, in which a secret game between lovers has deadly consequences.
(Adapted from the UK pubisher.)



Book Reviews
[A] searing, chilling sliver of perfection about a toxic relationship that may or may not be finished…To a degree that's astonishing, this genre is still picking itself up from Gillian Flynn's brilliant and monumentally crucial Gone Girl, which retaught readers to doubt everything. That doubt lingers all the way through the stunning final pages of Our Kind of Cruelty, which may well turn out to be the year's best thriller.
Charles Finch - New York Times Book Review


A seriously twisted story of obsessive attachment.… If you like sustained discomfort you'll love this one.
Sarah Murdoch - Toronto Star


[A] fiendishly clever psychological thriller.… Hall forces her readers to consider their attitudes to the sexes.
Alison Flood - Guardian (UK)


In Hall’s impressive novel, sexual role-playing games have dangerous undercurrents.… While the orchestration of suspense is masterly, Hall’s real agenda becomes apparent in a feminist subtext: the way in which female desire is judged more harshly in modern society.
Barry Forshaw - Financial Times (UK)


A story of obsession and self delusion, as well as the pain that intense passion can bring, it is disturbing and thrilling.
Daily Mail (UK)


Thrilling.… The reader will wrangle over what's real and what's imagined. As a courtroom drama unfurls, readers may be left wondering if their interpretation of events is due to their own biases.
Irish News (UK)


One of the most unsettling books I have read in a while but brilliant.… Obsessive love has never been written so frighteningly.
Women's Day


[A] disturbing psychological thriller.…Readers never learn enough about V and arguably a lot more than they might wish about a narrator whose head is an uncomfortably creepy place to be. Still, Hall is a writer to watch.
Publishers Weekly


[A] slow-burn, sinister psychological thriller.… Hall’s depiction of stalker mentality and behavior is chilling. Perhaps most interesting is the examination of gender politics and how women are punished for sexual behavior in ways that men are not.
Library Journal


Hall brings the unreliable narrator to new heights in this disturbing narrative.… For fans of Nabokov’s Lolita [and] Highsmith’s Ripley tales.
Booklist


Here's a change—a psychological thriller in which a man is the crazy one.… Which is worse—an emotionally disturbed murderer or a woman with a fierce libido? Hall's U.S. debut is designed to show just how much trouble society has answering that question.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. As the book begins, Mike Hayes, the narrator and main character, is in prison. His barrister has told him to write down the story of events leading to the murder for which he will soon go to trial. Why does the barrister say that Mike’s story feels like "something he can’t grab hold of"? What are clues in Part I that Mike’s version of events may not be accurate? Are there things he tells us about himself that reveal more than he intends?

2. When Mike and Verity met, as students at university, they were both promising young people from very different backgrounds. What initially drew them together? What challenges did they each face and how were they suited to help each other? As their relationship progressed over nine years, how did they each change?

3. What is the Crave, the game Mike and Verity play? How did it begin and how was it named? What does Mike read into Verity’s e-mails and meetings with him that make him believe her marriage to Angus is "the ultimate Crave"?

4. Why does Verity invite Mike to the wedding? Why does she get back in touch with him at all?

5. What is Kaitlyn’s motivation for befriending Mike? How does he interpret her kindness? What does she mean when she says they are both outsiders at work? How does she come to suspect that he is not what he seems?

6. "Eagles are magnificent," Verity tells Mike, explaining to him why she wears a necklace with a silver eagle on it. What does the eagle mean to her? What does it mean to Mike?

7. Mike’s childhood was a combination of cruelty and kindness—a boyhood of damaging cruelty, followed by foster care with Elaine and Barry, who loved him and tried to repair the damage done to him by his mother and her boyfriends. What are instances of kindness and cruelty toward Mike or between other characters? How does Mike respond to kindness? What is his idea of love?

8. What is in the box that Elaine gives Mike when he goes away to university? Which objects are meaningful to him? Even though he says he meant to throw it away at the first opportunity, why has he kept it? How is Mike a combination of the cruelties and kindnesses that the objects in the box represent?

9. What is the sequence of events leading to Angus’s death? Are there signs that Mike is an angry man who might be capable of killing? Who else might bear some of the responsibility for Mike’s actions?

10. The testimony given at the trial often challenges Mike’s version of events. For example, he tells us that Verity’s friend Louise made a pass at him at Verity’s wedding. But Louise testifies that she had never liked Mike, that he was agitated at the wedding and had pushed her. Which version of the story is more believable? What are other examples of testimony that contradict Mike?

11. "I am well practiced in ruining things," Mike thinks as he remembers the events leading to Angus’s death. What leads him to make this observation? Is he a confused and grieving man who has been betrayed by circumstance or a man who deliberately chooses to do wrong—the dangerous fantasist invoked by Petra Gardner or the confused "good lad" his foster mother believes him to be? Does he deserve any sympathy?

12. Besides Verity, are there other people who matter to Mike? How would they describe him? How do his impulses, either cruel or kind—toward his foster parents, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances—intensify during the months after Verity leaves him?

13. The media covers the trial as a scandal and relishes in reporting every detail of Verity’s background and relationships. Why are the press and public opinion more focused on her than on Mike? Why do they seem eager to assume she is guilty? Is she treated fairly in court?

14. As the book ends, Mike receives the YOU ARE NOT postcard from Verity. Why did Verity send the postcard? How does Mike interpret her message? Why does he believe he has "saved" her?

15. The epigraph that opens the book (from The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch) implies that Our Kind of Cruelty is essentially a love story. Is it? What else does the epigraph foreshadow?
(Questions issued by the publishers.)

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