His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, is the second (and last) book shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker short-list that I’ve read, and while it is utterly different to Eileen, it’s left me with a similar aftertaste. I’m both impressed and disturbed.
It’s so good in fact, that I honestly thought it was based on real historical events, I only know it isn’t because the Man Booker is a prize awarded for a novel. Which probably means I need my Ravenclaw access revoked. However, this speaks volumes for the authentic feel of the novel Burnet presents.
“A brutal triple murder in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder the local village constable. And who were the other two victims? Ultimately, Macrae’s fate hinges on one key question: is he insane? ” GoodReads.
His Bloody Project is hard reading, it’s not a gripping read. However, I recommend fighting through the lacklustre text to get the overall impression of the murders Roderick Macrae committed. Burnet aptly recreates the tone you would expect from a Victorian setting. Your reading investment will pay off.
The book is split into sections; witness statements, Roderick’s memoir, medical examinations, psychologist reports, and extracts of the trail. Roderick’s memoir is cold and detached. He speaks very matter-of-factly and while he describes situations that clearly pained or upset him you don’t feel that emotion come through. He accepts what he did was wrong, but that death was the only option. At first, it feels as though he is resigned to his fate, but as you read on through the evidence and trial you wonder if this is evidence of his madness, or if he may indeed be a psychopath.
Which ultimately became the mystery of the book, as certain details – which I won’t spoil – come to light, you begin to doubt what you ‘know’. With the added benefit of reading this novel now, with the advancement in the studies of the mind, to perhaps see elements of Roderick’s behaviour that indicate he wasn’t the same as his peers. You’re all at once in the novel, in 1869, and outside of it with modern knowledge.
It’s also a fascinating look at the situation of the poor, and how people of lower-income were (unfairly or incorrectly) perceived. You feel for the Macrae’s, punished for being different and for not being economically fortunate. Burnet’s representation of the misunderstanding of Criminality is excellent. The idea that features of a person that dictate criminality (pigeon chest, high cheekbones, misshapen cranium) are as fascinating as they are maddening.
I found while I couldn’t align myself with Roderick, I couldn’t condemn him either. He wasn’t right, but the situation wasn’t fair.
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet was a fascinating read, you may find it a little slow going, but it’s more than worth powering through!