This week, it’s a book that I’ve been putting off reading since Christmas because I was afraid it would be too gloomy – His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so I knew it would be well-written, but in the short dark days of January and February, I needed something lighter. Set in rural Aberdeenshire in the 19th century, it tells the story of a remote crofting community and how one young man was driven to murder. The tale is told partly in the young man’s own words, written while awaiting trial, and partly in those of a lawyer who is looking into the case.
This is bleak reading, and does much to explain why people left the countryside in the first place. Abuses of power in a small place have a disproportionate effect on the poverty-stricken inhabitants, and grievances fester for decades. The murder, when it comes, is an inevitable outcome of a generation’s worth of oppression, and it is a tribute to Burnet’s skill that the reader retains sympathy for the murderer throughout. The brutality of his neighbours is revenged, but there is no satisfaction in the end, only a sense of lives wasted by poverty. An excellent book, but one that holds no nostalgia for the Scotland of days past.