When Grace Bernard discovers her absentee millionaire father has rejected her dying mother’s pleas for help, she vows revenge, and sets about to kill every member of his family. Readers have a front row seat as Grace picks off the family one by one – and the result is gruesome in this dark romp about class, family, love… and murder.
But then Grace is imprisoned for a murder she didn’t commit.
Was Bella Mackie on a dissertation deadline?
There’s a lot that fell flat for me in How to Kill Your Family, but a key gripe was that the chapters were endless. Mackie loves a ramble, and ramble she did. Grace’s revenge plot gets lost in Mackie’s desire to turn what should be fun a Killing Eve-esque romp into a collection of social commentary essays on the lives of boomers, millenials and the emerging Gen-Z, all of which our narrator despises.
I do sympathise with Mackie as I, too, am prone to being a waffler under stress. Yet, the endless tangents could have easily been summed up in one sentence rather than fifty-odd pages that Mackie takes to give you her opinion on something socially or culturally relevant. For a book that is literally called How to Kill Your Family, there’s not a lot of killing and far too much musing on modern technology and culture.
The thing is, Mackie had a solid base story; a disgruntled lovechild plots revenge against the rich daddy who abandoned her and his family. Yet, the murders of Grace’s estranged family members are clumsly sandwiched in between these long rants.
How to Kill Your Family is trying too hard. It wants to be funny and witty, but struggles to flesh out the main plot. By deviating from the central narrative – recounting Grace’s crimes and how she ended up in prison – Grace is less of a compelling anti-heroine and more of whiny, ‘pick me’ girl. While she feigns nonchalance at the life of luxury that was robbed from her, it is evident from the rants laced with jealousy that Grace is just really bitter. She’s also extremely critical of other women, their bodies and their choices which goes against the feminist vibe that Mackie attempts to establish throughout the novel. We’re obviously meant to be enthralled by Grace and impressed by her devious deeds, but she’s just completely detestable. Funnily enough, not because she’s a serial killer but because she’s constantly complaining about someone or other and how they’ve either wronged her or how their mere existence annoys her.
A GoodReads user summed up pretty much all the groups of people that Mackie’s murderous narrator targets with her lengthy rants – and I do mean lengthy! A lot of it was unnecessary as the novel is meant to be about Grace’s revenge against her relatives. If Mackie wanted to lecture us all on her distate for smart homes and influencer culture then I don’t understand why she didn’t just publish a collection of essays. How to Kill Your Family suffers from the classic need to tear other people down in order to emphasise how cool and better than everyone else its main character is. It’s not done in a fun way either. At points, there’s a lot of malice in Grace’s delusions of superiority.
Simply put, How to Kill Your Family is trite. It is Mackie’s debut novel and the inexperience and desire to pack too much into it was clear. A lot of the endless waffle of Mackie’s rants should have been nixed in the editing process as they really minimise the impact of the deaths. While you’re trying to process Grace’s most recent kill, Mackie’s already moved on to ranting about Pret and lip fillers.
There’s no clear sense of direction to this novel and I felt at times she was confused with how she wanted to portray Grace. The impossible financial logistics of Grace’s life and revenge plan aside, How to Kill Your Family seemed torn between channeling the glamorous, salacious Villanelle in a neon pink Molly Goddard dress versus wanting Grace to also be a ‘woman of the people’. There’s a lot of criticism towards the upper class’ opulent lifestyles and well-connectedness, and all this would be fine if Mackie wasn’t the daughter of Alan Rusbridger, ex-Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, as well as being the granddaughter of a baron. Mackie is undeniably privileged, which makes her constant digs at privileged white people a tad ironic and eye-rolling inducing. They say ‘write what you know’, and Mackie is worlds away from the wronged working class hero that she’s trying to create in Grace. It doesn’t feel natural because it isn’t.
Overall, it’s a very strained and long-winded book that never lets you savour the few moments of fun because Mackie cuts immediately to a rambling rhetroic about the vapid nature of the ultra rich and today’s society. The ‘plot twist’ at the end was straight out of the Pretty Little Liars textbook and made the whole novel pretty redundant.
How to Kill Your Family overpromises and underdelivers. Grace is far from the sexy, sardonic killer that Mackie wants her to be. It’s like when you order Villanelle from Wish. It’s a shame because How to Kill Your Family has such a good premise, but suffers from really bad execution. It only gets two stars because I liked Andrew and his love for the frogs.