His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

“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!

How many of the shortlist have you read?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I have a sense that Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi will be one of those books, like Beloved or The Color Purple, that will be taught in school. Reading it felt like learning, in one of those glorious ways that reminded me how easy it is to forget history we don’t acknowledge as a society.

Homegoing is the tale of two sisters, Effia and Esi, and the history of their descendants. One sister is married to a white slave trader, the other sister is captured and made a slave. This is not a story about slavery, as much as the white invasion influences what happens. Instead, this is a story of politics, family, and race.

homegoing by yaa gyasi“Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.” GoodReads.

Homegoing was impossible to put down. I enjoy stories that follow families and give narratives from multiple protagonists. There is such a richness to this novel, you feel the pain and struggles of Gyasi’s characters – but most of all you feel their determination to fight the obstacles they don’t ask for or deserve.

I cried once, near the end of the book, when one of Effia’s descendants reads the poem below in school. As an African in America, rather than an African-American, she is ‘other’ to all the students. This poem is her response to her experience in America and from my understanding, she is conveying that although she has not grown up African-American, their experiences aren’t all that different.

Split the Castle open,
find me, find you.
We, two, felt sand,
wind, air.
One felt whip. Whipped, once shipped.
We, two, black.
Me, you.
One grew from
cocoa’s soil, birthed from nut,
skin uncut, still bleeding.
We, two, wade.
The waters seem different
but are same.
Our same. Sister skin.
Who knew? Not me. Not you.

There is so much to say about Homegoing, but I want you to read it so I shan’t say more.

What book has moved you recently? Has it changed the way you think?

bodies of light by sarah moss

Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light is the second Sarah Moss novel is what I call, ‘Alice reads everything Sarah Moss has ever written’. I’ve decided her books will always surprise me, as I never get what I’m expecting from the synopsis.

bol“Bodies of Light is a deeply poignant tale of a psychologically tumultuous nineteenth century upbringing set in the atmospheric world of Pre-Raphaelitism and the early suffrage movement. Ally, is intelligent, studious and engaged in an eternal – and losing – battle to gain her mother’s approval and affection. Her mother, Elizabeth, is a religious zealot, keener on feeding the poor and saving prostitutes than on embracing the challenges of motherhood. Even when Ally wins a scholarship and is accepted as one of the first female students to read medicine in London, it still doesn’t seem good enough.” GoodReads.

Bodies of Light follows Ally Moberley, in Victorian England, as she grows up mentally stifled by her overbearing and hard to please mother, Elizabeth. Her father is a famous artist Arthur Moberly (I was very disappointed when I discovered her wasn’t real) and her mother a religious zealot and feminist. Actually, I’m not sure feminist is the right word, she wanted freedom for women, but forced her daughter into a life she decided was best for the cause.

Elizabeth Moberly was a fascinating character, Ally and May’s mother, she was so utterly radical, but also so tyrannical and closed-minded. She suppressed every part of herself for a piety that was irrelevant. She was more concerned with appearances. She devoted her life to the care of poor ‘fallen’ women, yet, her care wasn’t empathy, it was arrogance. She saw herself as better, and these women as incapable of helping themselves.

Ally’s anxiety was so familiar. I am drawn to anxious characters. It’s both relaxing and stressful to see thought processes you find so familiar on the pages of a book because momentarily you become that character. Her anxiety comes out physically, with fainting and hysteria. Unlike her sister May, Ally constantly believes her mother and thinks she is weak or unworthy. So much pressure is put on her, from both her parents and while you feel as though her father may be the better parent you see he too is just as disappointed in her actions. They are a selfish pair.

Each chapter begins with a painting (either by Moberly or his friend) a history of the hands it has passed through, and a description of the painting itself. These descriptions give you a hint of what will happen the chapter ahead. They also remind the reader that you only get a glimpse of the part of their lives that correspond with the painting. It’s a private history, of women in his paintings, and the women connected to them.

Bodies of Light snuck up on me, I felt fairly indifferent to it until I realised just what it was giving to me and how intelligent it was. I’ll have to read Night Walking next, which features May Moberly, Ally’s sister.


Have you read The Tidal Zone or Bodies of Light?
Did you enjoy them?