His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Man Booker long list)


We must take things as they really are, and not as we wish them to be. -Rudolph Virchow

Roderick Macrae, from a small hovel in Culduie, Scotland, confessed to his bloody project right from the start of this novel. He willingly took his flaughter from the croft he was tending and applied it to the head of the village constable, Lachlan Mackenzie. (He also did away with Lachlan’s daughter, Flora, and son, Donald.) But, after reading all that Lachlan’s tricky, manipulative, self appointed authority had done to Roderick’s family, I don’t much blame him.

Tensions between Roderick and Lachlan began when Roderick slaughtered a sheep of Lachlan’s, whose leg had become dislocated from being mired in the mud even though Roderick was supposed to be tending the sheep. Roderick’s father was charged 35 shillings for the loss of this sheep, a fee he could ill afford to pay. But Lachlan did not leave his anger when Roderick agreed to work for him in recompense.

He found one way after another to torment Roderick’s family, from impregnating his sister to re-allocating a portion of their land to a neighbor. There was no injustice he seemed incapable of executing on the Macrae family specifically, or the villagers in general. In fact, during the trial, members of the village testified that Lachlan wielded his power in order to advance his own interests.

The novel takes us through each stage of the crime, from every point of view, and in so doing examines the machinations of the law against the poor and uneducated defendant. The whole novel, to me, highlights power that has been put to ill use, from 1869 in which the novel is set, to today. Are our only choices to fight against unjust power with what is considered a crime, or must we simply accept it?

It is masterfully written, certainly beating The Sellout, and A Work Like Any Other in my opinion. (At this point, I am in favor of My Name is Lucy Barton and The Many, first and second, although I have five more books to read before I complete the long list.)

8 thoughts on “His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Man Booker long list)”

  1. I have this one to read but know I will not get to it before shortlisting, I’m currently reading The Many and loving it. I might just be able to read the Coetzee before shortlisting but the rest will be just the free sample you can get from Amazon. Hystopia I will definitely not pursue- the beginning was way too confusing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s hard to read all that we want to, isn’t it? Time just doesn’t allow such and indulgence at this period of my life. The Many was, to me, a deceptively simple book. Teresa of Shelf Love wrote beautifully about it, as did Trevor at Mookseandgripes. The more I think about it, the more meaningful I think it to be. This one is fairly straightforward, but an enjoyable read. It also gave me a taste of Scotland about which did not know much.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bellezza,
    I’m glad you found this masterful. Your post and the title of this book certainly whet my interest in this Scottish novel. It sounds intriguing.


    1. There were many words pertaining to Scotland of which I wasn’t unaware; I added a few of them to the post such as “flaughter” (a tool) and “croft” (the land worked). I loved the sense of the culture it gave me, as well as being a thought provoking story of power being wielded over the powerless. It’s so tragic, and so relevant to today.


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