Our Kind of Cruelty is a dark story of obsession and delusion. Mike and Verity have been together for nearly a decade, since university. They have enjoyed an intense, passionate relationship, in which they’ve played a secret game they call ‘The Crave.’ This involves them going to a bar and waiting for Verity to be chatted up, so that Mike can swoop in and rescue her, something which turns both of them on. Now however, Verity is marrying another man, but Mike is convinced this is just another hand in their Crave and that really nothing and no one can separate them.
The whole novel takes place inside Mike’s head, which we soon come to realise is a deluded and damaged place. He had an abusive and neglectful childhood which has deeply impacted his perceptions about love and commitment. But Verity has been his saviour and he can’t let her leave because he knows her better than she even knows herself. And he knows she really wants him, and only him.
The last third of the novel takes the form of a high-profile trial, with both Mike and Verity standing accused of a crime. Their relationship and especially ‘The Crave’ takes centre stage and there is lots of interest from the media and the public. But what soon becomes clear is that, even though they have done the same things, they are not being judged in the same way.
I was very inspired by the Amanda Knox case when writing this book; Amanda was an American student accused and convicted of murdering her room-mate, Meredith Kercher, when they were both studying in Italy. The evidence was very circumstantial and Amanda’s personal life, namely her sex life, took centre stage in the trial. She was a young girl with a healthy sexual appetite and yet she was portrayed as a scheming temptress, which seemed to be enough to convict her. It made me realise that female sexuality is still terrifying to so much of society and that sexually active women are still feared and reviled.
We heard very little from Amanda during the trial, but still she was judged around the world on the evidence of second hand salacious gossip. This is why the novel is written solely from Mike’s point of view. This ‘silencing’ of Verity did feel uncomfortable, but I think was very important. Women are so often silenced in our society, even when we speak. We look at what women wear, how many drinks they’ve consumed or how many men they’ve slept with, without considering what they are saying.
The distressing truth is that men and women are still judged very differently, not just in the law, but also in society. Men can still get away with murder, both literally and metaphorically, whilst women have to be beyond reproach to be believed or successful. Our Kind of Cruelty is shouting Times Up, along with all the other brave women sticking their heads above the parapet around the world.
Our Kind of Cruelty is published by Century