When I was perusing the longlist for this year’s booker prize, His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet immediately jumped out at me. Like a sixth sense, I knew that I was going to enjoy this book. The title intrigued me as did the cover. I felt like I need to know more, because this book had to be about more than a murder in a crofting community in Scotland if it was award worth…right?
With literature, I think that there has to be something more than a good story to make it special. Good stories are the starting point, sure, but for a book to grab me by the shoulders and say “Notice me! I’m great” there’s got to be something else going on between the lines.
His Bloody Project is special. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the writing style. Graeme Macrae Burnet doesn’t need big words to wrap you in circles as you try to navigate what’s true and false in this plot. He deftly leads you down one path. He helps you to assume a point of view. Then he throws in a little detail that makes you rethink the whole plot up until that point.
What Is It Even About?
“The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.”
The basic plot of His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet centres on the murder of Lachlan Mackenzie and two others, by Roderick ‘Roddy’ Macrae. The novel flicks between past and present. First in the shape of Roddy’s memoir and then in journalistic accounts of his trial and psychological analysis. From the start we know two things, that he has killed three people, and that he has admitted this crime. This is not a ‘whodunnit’ but, rather, a ‘whydunnit’.
But beyond that, His Bloody Project navigates the troubled path between what we do, and what we say we do. What we remember and what we want to remember. And importantly, what others say, remember and will admit to.
What is truth, if no one is prepared to claim it? And if we can’t get at the truth, how can we truly understand the crime? These are the questions that Graeme Macrae Burnet is concerned with. Undoubtedly, Roderick Macrae viciously kills three people but the question of why remains shrouded in mystery.
Why Should I Read It?
If you love psychological thrillers that play with your perceptions of right and wrong, then His Bloody Project is ideal for you. By mixing the styles of prose between memoir, newspaper reports and psychological analysis, Graeme Macrae Burnet is able to twist and play with your perspective right from the start. Each account comes with its own bias attached. Journalists who want to sensationalise and psychologists eager to prove their own fledgling theories. It all combines to create a disjointed assortment of facts heavily obscured by opinion.
His Bloody Project reads more like Making of a Murder than CSI. The writing is presented in such an authentic manner that even in the midst of reading you are tempted to forget that it really is fiction. In fact, the book has even been mistakenly listed as ‘True Crime’ by some! A detail which I think only heightens the games Graeme Macrae Burnet is playing in this novel.
He twists your sympathies towards Roddy, only to offhandedly reveal a new (gory) detail that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. These entirely believable metafictional games add to the conundrum of picking the truth from lies. Wading through layer upon layer of conjecture and fiction and ulterior motive to get the heart of the matter makes for outstanding reading though.
Beyond the crime, I was also fascinated to read about a part of history that is largely ignored. I was vaguely aware of the ‘The Highland Clearances’. But I didn’t know much about their impact. This book takes place in an 1869 crofting community that is scratching a subsistence from an increasingly hostile environment. This glimpse into the injustice and prejudice these communities faced as well as how precarious their lives were, was shocking.
“The outlook in these parts is that if one is to be visited by misfortune, there is nothing that can be done to avoid it.”
So, Will You Be Adding His Bloody Project to Your Reading List?
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