Oh, what fun this book is!
Sometimes you just need to sink your teeth into a big, juicy, ketchupy burger of a book. Our Kind of Cruelty is that burger.
Mike is a successful, handsome man whose life revolves around Verity, his girlfriend. He’s overcome a brutal childhood and battles anger issues, but has managed to build a beautiful relationship with Verity and is soaring towards a future that might include early retirement.
Their connection is deep and all-consuming. They play a sex game called The Crave in which they go to a bar, Verity flirts with another man, then Mike interrupts, telling the man to stop flirting with his girlfriend. Verity and Mike then take off and smooch.
On the scale of extremes and where you could go with a book that revolves around a game of sexual intrigue, The Crave is pretty tame.
When Verity breaks it off and marries another man, Mike unravels. But is the split real? Or is it a more elaborate version of The Crave?
We have the fact that Verity invited Mike to her wedding, went on the honeymoon they had planned to take with each other, and still wears the special eagle necklace that had played heavily in the Craves. But there’s his unstable mental state and obsession with Verity. Itâ€™s hard to determine whether she genuinely wants a clean break, or simply to raise the stakes on their game.
Our Kind of Cruelty is yet another book in which the “unstable” or “crazy” character is one who suffers from mental illness. His downward spiral could have been mitigated with a good therapist and meds.
The mystery remains of whether this is The Crave 2.0 or a case of a crazy stalker, even after the end of the book (according to my own interpretation). However, the author adds a note after the final page explaining her intentions. It’s thought-provoking and well-worded, but I wish she had left it out. I wanted to roll the book around in my head some more. The author’s explanation took that freedom away (although Iâ€™m still torn on whether she fully executed the text to fit her stated intent).
How much should authorial intent matter in the reading of a book?
In his essay, “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes famously says the author’s intent has no place in the book. All of the ideas, customs, and values are an amalgam of the world around the author. Once the work leaves his or her hands, the only relationship that matters is between the book and the reader.
Here’s a video that succinctly and robustly explains Barthesâ€™ literary theory.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic criticism takes a differing view, putting utmost value in authorial intent. After all, the characters, customs, culture, values, conflicts, and all other contents of the book are manifestations of the author’s own inner workings.
Both sides are a bit extreme, and there are many more theories behind authorial intent that take more of a middle-ground approach. Where do your opinions lie? I suppose mine are somewhere in the middle. But in the case of Our Kind of Cruelty, I’m leaning a bit toward Barthes.
- Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
- Published May 2018
- MCD / Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Watch this video and other book reviews on my Read Remark booktube channel.
- Music: bensound.com