His Bloody Project

bloody

Author: Graeme Macrae Burnet

Finished on: 12 October 2016

Where did I get this book: A present from my gorgeous friend Cath

His Bloody Project is a dark, revolting and ridiculously compelling story of a triple murder in a tiny Highlands crofting community in 1869.

Brought to wide attention through its nomination for the 2016 Booker prize, this book is the literary equivalent of a ‘watercooler moment’. Every time I speak to someone else who has read it, we launch into a session of wild speculation, like a couple of incompetent Jessica Fletchers trying to follow the clues, fill in the gaps and identify which were the red herrings; generally work out why the version we’re being led to believe is true just doesn’t add up.

It is easy to read, whilst also being impossible to pin down. The narrative is told through ‘found’ documents; everything you’re told is unreliable to some extent, and the reader is left to try and piece together what ‘really’ happened.

Burnet is another one who, like Donna Tartt in The Little Friend, breaks that contract between reader and writer. The deal is that if I sit down and make it all the way to the end of your book, you will properly explained to me what has happened. Especially when we’re talking about murder. But the impact of this book was different. Whilst The Little Friend was superb in many ways, when I finished it I just wanted to lock Tartt in a room until she has written a proper ending. Still do, to be honest. This book, on the other hand, leaves you feeling like you’re the sleuth piecing together the clues. Albeit ineptly in my case. If I didn’t have a ‘to read’ pile that has expanded to fill my entire house, I would go back and immediately read again with a highlighter pen in hand.

One of my favourite writers of all time is Robert Louis Stevenson, and I have often bemoaned the lack of good, old fashioned Stevenson-esque drama in writing today. With His Bloody Project Burnet is channelling Stevenson with bells on, particularly in the way he sets up and structures the book. There is something about that wild, dark fiction that explores the bleakest and ugliest side of humanity, masquerading as a genuine historical account, that is an absolute joy. This is a real curl up in a blanket by the fire and forget the rest of the world exists treat of a read.

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18 comments

  1. Granted, I read this book quickly, and because I got bored, I probably skimmed over parts I shouldn’t have. But I’m not seeing what is so ambiguous about the book. What am I missing? We know the main character did it, right? The only question is why and whether or not he was crazy? Given how harsh his life was, it seemed very understandable that he’d want to kill the nasty bugger. I know the sexual motive was thrown in at the end, which complicated things a bit, but still. What am I missing?

    Here is my review. https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/his-bloody-project/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought it was really ambiguous, and that he may well have been covering for someone. All the information was unreliable to some extent, we know he didn’t tell the whole truth in his document.

      So much with Flora was unexplained, and also Jetta his sister. The incest theme was running through the whole story and there was stuff going on there that we never got to the bottom of, also his nighttime wanderings, spying on the neighbours’ girls.

      But maybe I am just being suspicious!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am actually re-reading it. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. It is well-written and moody. I think it was the word “thriller” that threw me. I was expecting a lot more tension. If I hadn’t read it with the expectation of thrills, I think I would have liked it more. On this second read, I am also seeing a lot more of the incest theme than I did the first time around. I do think he is not acknowledging his own sexual desire and perhaps experiences. That part rings true; he seems to hide a lot of his own emotions from himself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would love to reread! Pay particular attention to Jetta, interested in what you make of what’s going on there. Her pregnancy/ suicide/ who was the father and the mirroring of Flora and Jetta’s experiences??

        Like

      • I did notice that Jetta went to see an old “crone”. I think it was so she could get something to make her abort the child. The crone said something like “I hope your condition improves.”

        Now, I am pretty sure both her father and Lachlan were raping her. She seems so freaking resigned to being abused. I can see why she would want to kill Lachlan, but I don’t think she would have the strength to do so. It gives Roddy another motive to kill him.

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