Friday, 28 April 2017

Broadway Book Club discussion of His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

2016 Booker Prize shortlisted His Bloody Project was our April choice- just a quick summery of our discussion.

Reception of the book was mostly positive, though it was commented that it was a tough book to read for several reasons- the grimness of the plot, various bloody murders and its unhappy ending for one, but also the dense, jargon-filled legal proceedings, the somewhat dry court case, the technical reports from psychologists and doctors. Whilst it was varied and cleverly done, many of us struggled to plough through at least part of it. One person also commented that though they thought it interesting, they weren’t sure if they would recommend it, definitely not sure who to. We agreed that the format was definitely unique, that a unique novel in such a popular, established genre such as crime fiction was an achievement in and of itself. We agreed that the “found documents” style of the book definitely added to the reader’s experience as it placed them in the detective’s chair and allowed them to draw their own conclusions after reviewing the collected evidence.

As you might expect, we talked at length about Roddy Macrae and the type of person that he is. In his own account he is a somewhat naïve dreamer of a boy- a disappointment to his father, a conflicted and unhappy person that seems to get everything wrong and suffers from enormous stretches of bad luck. There are inconsistencies with how he perceives himself and how others perceive him. He is described variously as a gifted student, the village idiot, a dangerous miscreant, a harmless if odd teenager. Some accounts tally with what Roddy himself claims. Some most definitely do not. We talked about how hard it was to wade through the conflicting accounts, how quick we were (or how long it took) to realise that Roddy’s story was merely a version and not the truth, how subjective first-hand accounts can be and how flexible things like truth and innocence can be. His Bloody Project was compared at this point to Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, as that too has a main character on trial for murder, scrutinised by professionals that make declarations about her sanity, motivations and personality, while the narrator too tries to work out who she is and what she has done. Read it if you haven’t, because it’s excellent.

We talked about how damning the coroner’s report was as a piece of evidence. Until the report is read in court, it’s easy to write off other villagers’ opinions of Roddy as prejudice or malice. When the Coroner describes the mutilated, ruined corpse of Flora, Roddy’s crush and supposedly unintentional victim, he claims no knowledge or memory of performing such actions. In his version he simply kills her in a daze and wanders off. We discussed how, in a narrative so dependent on impressions, recollections and perceptions, a coroner’s report describing Flora’s injuries just feels too conclusive to ignore. It proves Roddy as a liar and forces the reader to re-think everything else- the raising of fledgling birds, the startling of the deer to save its life…we decided it cast it all in a new, sceptical light.

We talked about how good and evocative the setting was, how dark, gloomy places seem to evoke a desire to murder. We talked about how the rigid class structure and firm social views regarding aspirations and knowing your place might have contributed to Roddy’s motives. The other crofters seemed fairly unanimous that though Lachlan Broad was an unpleasant bully, the Macraes’ issues with him were minor. WE talked about Calvinism and predeterminism and the idea of fate and prophecy. Roddy’s sister had predicted Lachlan’s death, so Roddy felt compelled to bring it to pass. Very Macbeth.

We talked briefly about the minor characters and how utterly miserable their lives were- how Jetta was driven to suicide by her father’s rage and the fact she was pregnant. Jetta and Flora seemed particularly endangered- there was a nasty whiff of incest about their relationships with their respective fathers- both girls seemed trapped and deeply unhappy. If Lachlan was able to abuse his neighbour’s daughter in the way that he did, we didn’t doubt he’d do it to his own. We talked too about how Roddy’s half siblings might have been Lachlan’s.

I’ve probably missed out quite a lot, but it was an interesting discussion about a unique novel that made a big impression- full of contradictions and mysteries and unfathomable people that see more than they let on and know more than what they say.

Our book for May is Sarah Perry’s bestseller The Essex Serpent, which is luckily on the 2 for £7 in Tesco (and probably other stores). Future choices were discussed; we thought we’ve read a lot of new releases recently, so something a bit more vintage would be welcome. Thanks to everyone that suggested these J

June- Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh
July -The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

August- The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

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