I’m holding my hands up, when I started How to kill your family, I wasn’t sure if I’d finish it. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get on board with a character who was so bloody awful.
Because, Grace Bernard, in those first few pages is difficult to get on board with.
And yet, I was kind of won over.
Grace is the ultimate anti-hero, a complete psychopath. She’s empowered, she’s brutal, witty and, strangely, likeable…. despite the fact she really shouldn’t be. She definitely left me feeling conflicted.
Here’s Grace’s story…
I have killed several people (some brutally, others calmly) and yet I currently languish in jail for a murder I did not commit.
When I think about what I actually did, I feel somewhat sad that nobody will ever know about the complex operation that I undertook. Getting away with it is highly preferable, of course, but perhaps when I’m long gone, someone will open an old safe and find this confession. The public would reel. After all, almost nobody else in the world can possibly understand how someone, by the tender age of 28, can have calmly killed six members of her family. And then happily got on with the rest of her life, never to regret a thing.
We meet Grace as she’s languishing in Limehouse prison for crime she didn’t commit. As you can guess from the blurb, that doesn’t mean she’s innocent, she’s far from it.
To beat the boredom, Grace starts writing her life story, detailing the crimes she has committed, explaining how she’s been bumping off her estranged family in incredibly creative ways – think Midsomer murders and the inventive deaths on that TV show and you’re in the same ballpark.
Grace has been planning her outrageous plot since she was teenager, working her way through her own very bleak to do list….
· Kill my family
· Make a claim on their fortune
· Get away with the above
· Adopt a dog
The moment a teenage Grace discovers her millionaire, playboy dad rejected her and her dying mother’s pleas for help, Grace has dreamt of revenge. She wants to make him suffer and wants him to know exactly who’s behind it and why before bumping him off too.
I’m going to be clear, the majority of characters in this book are absolutely vile. If you’re a reader who needs characters to be nice, then this is not the book for you, because you’d struggle to find a single redeeming quality between the lot of them. For me, I quite enjoyed reading about these incredibly dark, twisted and nasty people.
It may seem as though this a straightforward tale of revenge but there’s more to it than that. It’s about family, it’s about class and the patriarchy – structures and systems that Grace is subverting.
She isn’t what a woman is expected to be; she’s an angry, villainous, vengeful, cruel and a raging snob. She looks down on people and how they chose to live their lives, she’ll write people off, views herself as smarter and classier than most people, she carries herself with an air of self-importance. She’s quick to judge and self-obsessed and unable to recognise her own failings.
She sees herself as being on righteous mission to rid the world of some truly awful people without being able to see that she is in fact one of them. Part of the fun of this book is seeing if that will be part of her great undoing. She’s fascinating to read about.
You’ll understand where her rage is coming from, because Mackie has a point to make about the treatment of women by some men:
“ I don’t want it to be a preachy book at all. It’s not a book that you have to learn anything from, it’s a book that you’re supposed to laugh at – that’s what I really want. But on the other hand, it is also a book about how the cards are stacked and how terribly men behave in so many different ways – there’s sexual harassment, there’s bullying, there’s a lot going on there. This book is all about men having power over women and the system being rigged to make men win. […] I do want it to be funny, but I also want women to read it and feel that rage”. Bella Mackie in Marie Claire
And she’s right, you don’t learn a life lesson from this book. The driving force of the plot – Grace’s mad plan to kill her family and become rich – isn’t realistic, it’s a dark comedy that will make you laugh and nod your head in recognition at the power structures at play. Grace will shock and outrage you, you won’t like her but be constantly intrigued by her.
There is a twist towards the end. It’s a twist I didn’t see coming, yet, it fit, it made sense, I loved the irony.
This book is deliciously dark. It’s twisted but funny and, rather oddly, uplifting.
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