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Wow.

 

I mean, seriously, Wow!
 
His Bloody Project masquerades as a plot driven historical crime novel, but is in fact a character driven exploration of a 19th century Scottish crofting community were a small number of people are forced to live in close proximity despite not liking one another.
 
You know, right from the outset, that this is going to be a bit special when there are a series of contradictory statements from the Culduie residents about the murder of Lachlan Broad Mackenzie and the prime suspect, Roddy Macrae. Every statement was written in a distinctive voice, but all steeped in the lilting West Highland diction of native Gaelic speakers. The novel then broadens into three main sections: a narrative account leading up to the murder, written by Roderick Macrae from his cell in Inverness gaol; a chapter from a book on the criminal mind by an arrogant academic from Edinburgh; and a journalistic account of the trial. Each of the three sections is distinctive and, although they cover some common ground, they each serve quite different purposes. They drip with authenticity - referencing real cases and real people - to the point that the reader wonders whether this is a fictionalisation of a true crime (it isn't).
 
Culduie is a real place, though, which in 1869 comprised 9 crofting cottages. It is stuck in the tracks beyond Applecross which, itself, is cut off from the rest of Scotland by a 19 mile winding pass. The residents were trapped both by geography and by their tenancy to their crofts. They were effectively property of the Laird, who dealt with them only through the Factor who, in turn, dealt directly only with the constable appointed by the villagers. The community had no privacy and personal grievances were to be avoided at all costs as you couldn't hide from those you disliked. 
 
So, in this context, we see that there are problems between the Macraes and the Mackenzies. The grievances are real and as each family contains strong personalities, this is a problem for the whole community. It is known from the outset that Roddy killed Lachlan Broad, so the question for the reader is (a) how this situation came about and (b ) whether the bad guys were the Macraes or the Mackenzies. Depending how the narratives are read, either conclusion can be drawn. But to draw the conclusions is simplistic. The issue really is that of people being trapped by poverty. Roddy, with whom the reader is invited to sympathise, is at best a klutz (to coin a neologism). And in a subsistence farming community, there is really no place for a klutz. But the reader is also challenged to consider whether Lachlan Broad, portrayed by Roddy as a self-serving bully, is in fact a bad man or perhaps something of a visionary. It's complex and never quote resolved.
 
There is also a considerable, and evenly handed, consideration of the nature of social class. To what extent is the laird a leech who profits from his crofters' misery and to what extent is he actually the social security safety net, holding the community together by subsidy. When we meet him, briefly, he is a grotesque and his factor is despised. Yet when the factor gives an account of himself at the trial, he comes across as plausible. Then, there are the inbetweeners. In particular, we meet Archibald Ross, an assistant to the laird's ghillie who fancies himself as part of the aristocratic retinue.
 
This is a well paced novel that avoids shocking twists but still keeps the reader guessing for most of the journey. The characters are rich and the evocation of the place and period are spot on. If there is one criticism, it is that there is a particular part in the trial sequence at which everything pretty much crystallises, but the author then carries on for some pages afterwards. This may add verisimilitude as a Victorian novel, but where Victorian novels have multiple storylines to tie up, this feels like lingering on the same single line. It weakens the impact of what had been very taut up to that point. But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent text. 
 
Long listed for the Booker, this deserves to go further. But perhaps the subject matter is too similar to The Luminaries to let it win. 
 
*****

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According to my Kindle I'm 60% through this book, which after two working days is warp speed for me.

I thought it was going to be a difficult read using English from the last century with Scottish dialect but was very pleasantly surprised at how readable it is. Gripped from the start and like Mr HG says the characters are vivid and text never bores but pulls you along.

Read in the Guardian that sales for the book are soaring owing to word of mouth/reviews. Great news for such a small publisher and the Booker prize itself.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/22/his-bloody-project-sales-booker-shortlist-graeme-macrae-burnet

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I have ordered this on my tablet and just got a message from amazon that it is delayed.  This has happened periodically before.  I don't remember when I thought it was coming through, but now it's October 18.  I have something I have to read before that time (going to an author talk with a friend), so I'm not hurt.

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I got this today, and read the start while taking a breather from teenager clothes shopping. When the girls came out, I read them a few lines from the start and they also wanted to read it!

 

I had to laugh in Waterstones. I couldn't find it on the tables, so I got out my phone and started looking up BGO, (having forgotten the author and thinking that "a book about a murder" wasn't much for the staff to go on) ... when I turned around and found I was next to an entire table of copies.  :wonder:

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Ha MM.  I've done that.  

 

It sounds to me like this book is structured like Killing Mr. Watson by Peter Matthiessen, which is one of my favorite books and not just because it is set in/near the Everglades.  It's another book told about the murder of a significant figure in a small community from multiple points of view.  If you like that, try to get your hands on this book.

 

This ended up being the first book in a trilogy.  The next one was told from the point of view of Watson's son and the third from Watson's point of view.  I couldn't get through the second one and didn't try the third.  But I loved the first one.

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Ha MM. I've done that.

 

It sounds to me like this book is structured like Killing Mr. Watson by Peter Matthiessen, which is one of my favorite books and not just because it is set in/near the Everglades. It's another book told about the murder of a significant figure in a small community from multiple points of view. If you like that, try to get your hands on this book.

 

This ended up being the first book in a trilogy. The next one was told from the point of view of Watson's son and the third from Watson's point of view. I couldn't get through the second one and didn't try the third. But I loved the first one.

I agree with you about Killing Mister Watson, and also that Lost Man's River, the second book, was deeply flawed. But Bone by Bone, Watson's fictionalized first person account was an outstanding read. Alternatively one could read Shadow Country, (which I have not done), which is a severely edited and reworked compilation of all three. Most of the cuts came from Lost Man's River. It knocks about 400 pages off the original combined total of the three. It also won the National Book Award. Edited by Dan

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Thanks, Dan.  Maybe I'll read Bone by Bone.  I didn't even consider it after Lost Man's River.  

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I see today the film rights have just been secured by a small Scottish film company. Just bought it myself today as well.

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I just discovered that the author is my colleague's pal's best mate and was a painter and decorator until recently.

Minx that is great. Any chance you can get him on BGO to answer questions? I have some and I'm sure those that have read this would love to ask questions.Could be a thread on it's own.

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Minx that is great. Any chance you can get him on BGO to answer questions? I have some and I'm sure those that have read this would love to ask questions.Could be a thread on it's own.

Ooh, I will see!

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I finished this last night.

 

I was pretty gripped and I found it very readable. I wasn't sure about a few things. Lachlan Broad seemed to be a thoroughly bad bloke, a bully and obsessed with his petty powers. I didn't really get another way to see him. 

 

 

 

I didn't know whether we were meant to think that Lachlan had been abusing Jetta, or whether she was a willing participant and maybe thought having his child was a way out. Roddy didn't seem to understand what he and Jetta were up to, but surely he wasn't so naive, if Carmina was to be believed about him spying on her girls as they slept? I don't feel I could reconcile the Roddy who wrote the memoir with the one who muttered to himself as he walked round the village and spied on the Smoke girls. Another question for me was how Flora came to have intimate injuries when Roddy had apparently only brought her down with a blow to the legs and then to the head: were we meant to believe he did this? It seemed to be a vital detail but was dropped.

 

 

Anyway, it was an evocative read. What sticks out most for me was the willingness of "more educated" people to see the crofters as somehow sub-human, when they were trapped in that way of life.

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I'm about 55% through this. I have read up until the trial.

 

I found Roddy to be very naive if not downright simple. He is told first by his school teacher, then his father, and then his advocate that he is very clever but I don't find this to be the case. Maybe it's just me. He does live in a very remote area which is all but permanently cut off but even allowing for that, as far as I'm concerned, he's simple.

 

I did laugh when I saw the glossary at the end of the chapter but I learned a few farming terms that I had not previously known so it was a good idea, especially since the Kindle dictionary and Wikipedia couldn't cope with some of the words.

 

I am enjoying the book immensely but the Kindle is beginning to get on my nerves now, so I'll see how long it lasts.

 

ETA I am now confused. I'm sure that Roderick mentioned Lachlan's wife earlier in his account but she was not mentioned when he was killing everyone.

Edited by lunababymoonchild

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I have now finished this and loved it!

 

In the end I found Lachlan's wife but no mention was made of where she was at the time of the crime. I am absolutely certain that Laclan was sexually abusing Jetta and that's what lead to her suicide.

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I am absolutely certain that Laclan was sexually abusing Jetta and that's what lead to her suicide.

 

 

And I am absolutely certain that Lachlan murdered Jetta in a fit of unrequited lust. That's why this is such a great book - what actually happened is genuinely ambiguous, but we still get the wonderful depiction of the claustrophobia of an isolated crofting community where people don't like each other. 

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My local library turned down my plea to order this book. So my sweetheart and I both requested it from interlibrary loan. Now they've ordered their own copy.

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So my sweetheart and I both requested it from interlibrary loan.

 

 

You may call her your sweetheart, but the factor's testimony may cast the relationship in a different light...

 

;) 

 

Glad to hear the library acceded to your pressure - enjoy!

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And I am absolutely certain that Lachlan murdered Jetta in a fit of unrequited lust. That's why this is such a great book - what actually happened is genuinely ambiguous, but we still get the wonderful depiction of the claustrophobia of an isolated crofting community where people don't like each other. 

I never even thought of that. I thought Jetta and Lachlan was a mutual thing (that maybe started out as a power thing on Lachlan's behalf) and once she realised that she was not going to be whisked away by the older man, because Roddy was set on killing him, or she heard that he had done it by the time she did what she did, she killed herself rather than be left with the shame of being pregnant.

 

I agree though about the ambiguity of the book and events therein. I think Roddy was intelligent but was so brow beaten by his dad and devastated by the death of his mother (the one light in his life) that he was shell-shocked, traumatised into being semi-mute. The clarity with which he decided to kill Lachlan seemed to be a moment of clarity in the fugue.

 

As for the injuries to Flora...I just haven't a clue. Roddy was so clear that dispatching her and her brother was just a means to an end that this just doesn't make sense. Unless he was having a moment of madness and punishing her for the rejection.

 

The way the factor and the eminent psychiatrist behaved just made my blood boil.

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I just finished this book and add to the praise.  What was evident to me was the total hopelessness of the life of a crofter, particularly when they suffer a misfortune of some sort.  For Roddy and his family, it was his mother's death.  I'm sure that the remaining family of Lachlan Broad suffered similarly. It was particularly cruel the way those who perceived themselves as their betters looked down on the crofters and ignored their needs, desires, and opinions.  

 

I was so saddened when he and his father dismissed the teacher who saw so much potential in Roddy.  In the U.S., it's very common for children in Hispanic families to drop out of school as soon as they are able so they can go get some crap job and contribute to the finances of the family.  My mother was a math teacher and her most brilliant student, by far, was named Pedro.  She talked and talked to him and to his family, but the answer was always that he needed to get a job to help his family.  So that discussion with the teacher sounded familiar to me.

 

I did have a hard time getting a handle on Roddy's character, but not because of the violence.  The teacher thought he was brilliant, but other than the memoir, I didn't see much evidence of his mental acuity.  His odd behavior on the hunt and his muttering to himself made me wonder exactly what was going on with him.  And yet his memoir doesn't seem to contain the kind of disordered thinking that would have done more to explain these events.  

 

I had one major puzzle and one minor puzzle, in reverse order in the spoilers.

 

 

My minor puzzle involved Jetta.  I think Jetta was the living embodiment of the abused crofter.  I think she was her father's replacement sexual partner after his wife died and he moved her back into his room.  And I think Lachlan Broad forced himself on her as a way of humiliating her father (I don't think he considered her at all).  After Roddy observes him screwing Jetta on the kitchen table, Broad says to him, "When you're older you'll realise that a man has to satisfy his needs somewhere.  Especially now that your dear mother is no longer with us."  What really could that mean?  That Jetta was taking her place with whom?  Her father?  Lachlan Broad?  Is that why "t was something of a surprise to my father when my mother fell pregnant for the fourth time"?  Because the baby was Broad's?  I don't really care except to observe that the women in Roddy's family have it worse than anybody and they barely receive a mention, except a little bit by Roddy who knows his sister is going to commit suicide.  And his father's treatment of Jetta--especially since I don't think there was any consensual sex in her life--made me hate him.

 

 

 

My major puzzle was what really happened between Roddy and the Broads and what exactly was Roddy's project?    Roddy's description of Flora's rejection of him was sad, but not as violent and his behavior not as improper as what was described at trial. Then, I was shocked to read about the injuries to Flora because Roddy didn't describe them in his memoir.  So what happened?  Was their encounter so much worse than he said and did Roddy inflict those wounds and just refused to remember or write about those events? That seems the most likely, but if I were Roddy, I would think that Flora's rejection, his sister's suicide and the causes of that suicide, and Lachlan Broad's persecution of his father was just more than he could bear.   Maybe his project was punishment of the Broads generally.  But I haven't really solved that particular puzzle.

 

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