Lisa's Reviews > Private Memoirs & Confessions Of A Justified Sinner

Private Memoirs & Confessions Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg
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Jan 13, 11

bookshelves: 2011, 1001-before-you-die, guardian-1000, new-1001-before-you-die, own, classics, gods-and-monsters, murders-and-misdeeds
Read from January 08 to 13, 2011, read count: 1

A strange, deeply interesting, challenging and, at times, maddening book that looks at the dangers of self-righteousness and a belief in your own religious and moral superiority.

The second child of an extremely unhappy marraige (though his paternity could be in doubt), Robert's father refuses to recognise him and so he goes to live with his fanatically pious mother and the Reverend Robert Wringhim, who fill his head with their own fanatical and strict religious views along with a deep hatred of his natural father and older brother George. Already a sullen, malicious and deceitful boy, things turn for the worse when he is seduced into friendship with a stranger, Gil-Martin, who shares his beliefs and soon starts to encourage and influence Robert's view of himself as being free to sin as he pleases due to his belief of being one of the elect, sure to find a place at God's right hand due to his faith. Embarking first upon a campaign against his brother, Robert's deeds soon become bloody as he sets about cleansing the world of what he sees as sinners.

Told in two narratives, the first is a relatively 'straight' telling of events as related by an 'editor'. The second are Robert's version of events, along with his thoughts and feelings. This method worked extremely well, allowing us to see events in a linear fashion as well as getting a non-fanatics view of George as a person, before plunging us into Robert's viewpoint, allowing us to feel a small measure of empathy for him and, while not condoning his actions, understanding why he's acting in this way whilst raising interesting questions about his companion.

At first thinking that Robert might be schizophrenic, I threw that theory out when it became apparent that Gil-Martin had been seen by many other that Robert. Instead he would appear to be the devil, using Robert's vanity and beliefs, particularly those of self justification and superiority, to encourage him into further crimes. However, Robert has already confessed and been shown to be deceitful so his word can't be entirely trusted. It would also appear that we can't trust the editor's narrative either, as he states his version of events is based not only on old records but old testimony and handed down stories, which could also be subject to exaggerations and falsehoods.

I would have rated this higher had the nature of Gil-Martin been left a little more ambiguous and if I had been able to understand some more of the sections written in broad Scots dialect (I only realised there was a glossary after I'd finished reading...doh!) but nonetheless this is a fascinating book, extremely well written, that will leave you thinking about it for a long time.
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