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His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2020

It seems that this is the kind of book that people either love or fucking hate, at least judging by the reviews floating around online.

I'd had it on my to-read list for quite some time – I remember being interested when it was published, but wanted to give the fanfare a bit of time to die down – and I'm glad I did, as I went in with no real expectations.

Thankfully, I thought it was a great read. A nice one? No, not really. But good at what it does. It's not a work that's easy to like – there is a distinct feeling of trepidation, of uncertain ground for the reader – but it is a work that's worth the journey.

The tale is a simple one: a young man commits a terrible crime, and we're presented with both documents supporting the legal process following same, and a jail-cell record, purportedly written by the criminal. There is lavish detail throughout, loving attention paid to both viscera and village, though we're never left knowing whether what we're reading – on either side of the law – is correct. There's a definite question that never leaves one's mind while progressing through the papers: who is right, if anyone? Why has this happened? How has this happened? And who is full of shit?

Inside all of those questions, from all these supporting documents, a compelling picture of a very particular time in Scottish history is formed. This is social commentary disguised as a murder tale, and it certainly sparked an interest in the subject that I didn't know I had.

I can see how people would think that creating a range of documentary ephemera to prop up the whole "did he do it?" story could be a bit of a cop-out. And I can imagine that expecting, y'know, a story and receiving a bunch of postmortem reports, interviews and a purported testament might well be considered a bit weak in lieu of a story that tells itself without the aid of such props. But for me, it all worked to the benefit of the tale: combining a subtler narrative about tenant farmers, Highland clearances, justice, socioeconomic status, religion and the role of the misfit in the community, however small, in the name of telling the story of a particularly gory afternoon.

It could be that my recently read books have included a couple of other novels in this vein – Fowles' A Maggot and Wilson's Malefice – that I found this so enjoyable. Certainly, I had no difficulty falling into the world Burnet created, no matter how despicable (or is that understandable?) the bloodletting may be.

A project, indeed.
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Reading Progress

September 10, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
September 10, 2019 – Shelved
April 11, 2020 – Started Reading
April 14, 2020 – Finished Reading
June 9, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020

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