I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve. My life has been short and of little consequence, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. It is thus for no other reason than to repay my advocate’s kindness towards me that I commit these words to paper.
His Bloody Project, short listed for Man Booker prize 2016, is unlike any other novel I have ever read. The story revolves around Roderick Macrae, a seventeen year old boy from Culduie in Ross-shire, who commits a brutal triple murder by killing Lachlan Mackenzie, the area constable, and two of Mackenzie’s children; Flora, aged fifteen and Donald, aged three.
From the beginning of the novel Roderick Macrae does not attempt to refute the charges that are brought against him. Roderick maintains he only “wished to deliver (his) father from the tribulations which he had lately suffered” and deaths of Flora and Donald Mackenzie “were necessitated by their presence in the house and (his) wish to prevent them from raising the alarm.” At no point Roderick Macrae shows remorse for what he has done and his continuous insistence to be of sound mind, raise questions of his sanity throughout the trial.
According to Roderick Macrae, Lachlan Mackenzie ill-used his power to subdue the Macrae family. The two families shared a long history of wrath, and although John Macrae; Roderick’s father tried to remain calm about the wrongs committed against his family (which could be very well out of his ego) by Lachlan Mackenzie, it brought Macraes nothing but destruction. Even though, one might say Lachlan Mackenzie had it coming, the heinous nature of the crime makes one wonder if such an act can be committed by a sane person. How can one determine terms of insanity is one of the ongoing themes of the novel.
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s fiction is presented to us in a unique form. Set in the 19th century, it consists of an account by Roderick Macrae in which he describes the events that led to the gruesome killings. Furthermore, it has statements from residents of Culduie, medical reports, news paper extracts on the trial and so forth. Hence, the book reads like true crime, although it is a work of fiction, which I really appreciate about this book.
Certainly, neither Applecross nor Camusterrach – primitive as they were – prepared us for the wretched collection of hovels that comprised the domicile of R___ M___. The short ride between Camusterrach and Culduie afforded, it must be said, a magnificent vista of isles of Raasay and Skye. The strait that separated these islands from the mainland sparkled agreeably in the sunlight. The contrast when we turned into the track which led to Culduie could not have been greater, and I can only imagine that the unfortunate natives of this place must daily avert their eyes from the beauty before them, so as not to be reminded of the squalor in which they dwell.
Also, Graeme Macrae Burnet tells us what it must have been like to live in the Scotland highlands in old days. He tells us of the many hardships a crofter like John Macrae would have had to undergo, just to barely survive.
His Bloody Project, printed by a small independent Scottish publisher is somewhat of an underdog in the Man Booker race. With only four days remaining for the winner announcement, I can not help it but root for Graeme Macrae Burnet to win. 🙂