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.