His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

(Book 151) Rosalie hosted this event which I was unable to attend because I had to leave the first bad weather days of snow and cold in Chicago to go to Hawaii with my husband. (There was some revenge exacted; I came home with the worst cough and cold of my life.) Typically, if I miss a meeting, Chris picks up on the note-taking and summary email, but Chris had to miss the meeting as well, so Linda was thrown into a baptism by fire, no, wait, by freezing temps. I’ll let Linda speak for herself.

Hi all,

I volunteered to summarize our lovely evening and book discussion. I would put the book discussion on the website, but I didn’t see a way to do that. So here goes. A small but merry (and cold) group assembled at Rosalie’s home to discuss “His Bloody Project”. Rosalie tried to discourage us by not answering her door, but we persisted! And we were glad we did. We entered to a cozy apartment to find delicious appetizers waiting for us. Stuffed crescent rolls, smoked salmon spread and a lovely blue cheese, yum! Assorted white and red wines were poured and we discussed the book.

No one thought to take a poll or get ratings, but the general consensus was positive. I liked the book but wasn’t sure I would recommend it to others – mainly because it was rather depressing. The theme of humans being treated horribly by other humans seems to be a recurring condition – up to modern day. Rosalie mentioned that on a trip to Scotland in the 80’s she visited a small town with a large fancy hotel where the townspeople were not allowed to fish in the waters off their coast. Only guests of the hotel were allowed to fish! And so it goes! Several of our group had wondered about the fiction vs family history aspect of the book. Our conclusion was that the Preface and the use of the author’s surname for the killer’s surname was a device by the author. (We decided it was all pure fiction.)

We moved into the dining room for a delicious dinner – seasonal salad with apples, a fantastic lamb stew, bannock. And a chocolate bundt cake with glaze for dessert (with root beer as a secret ingredient!). What more could anyone want on a cold snowy evening! We opened our monthly gifts – cookie baking tools – very timely. Thank you Teresa. We have chosen Tuesday December 13 for our annual cookie exchange/book discussion extravaganza! We have an open email from Teresa to state what appetizer we will bring. And we will not be celebrating Melissa’s birthday!

To top off the evening with a dramatic display of forgetfulness, I left my phone at Rosalie’s. Thanks to Marcia/Rosalie for notifying me and to Sharon who was kind enough to endure the trip back to collect it. (We were only halfway back to Chicago when we turned around.)

Thank you Rosalie for a wonderful evening, delicious dinner and excellent conversation.

(poor substitute)

In an email after the meeting, Rosalie told us she forgot to give out her Scottish shortbread — two different kinds! But she was reassured by Sharon: “no need to think of the imperfect things……….after a few minutes in your warm welcoming apartment and a few sips of wine then all was well. Also, in my family, it was a running joke to find the missing dish that someone forgot to bring to the table. There always was one. ” Chris and Susan added their stories of forgotten items at dinner parties, and we all take a deep breath and go on.

But, let’s talk about the book just a little more. In her email after the meeting Chris said:

“I personally liked this one a lot. It really made me think about the whole issue—a big one today—of how much a person can endure without losing their mind. Bullying and other forms of oppression never end. I would have loved to be in on a discussion of what “fairness” is and when others should rise up (always, basically).”

This was my second reading of the book. After the first reading, I wrote a short review on Goodreads and gave it 4 stars. “I may come back and give this five stars. I had more desire to read and finish this book than anything I’ve read for at least six months — it is shamefully clever — so much so that it takes a while to realize just how clever it is. It was particularly surprising to be so drawn to this book given my usual avoidance of situations in which a character is powerless to change or protect himself from intimidation, injustice and everydamnotherevilthing!
Really well done.”

After second reading: (11/22)
“Well, i did come back to give it five stars but it took me five years to do it.”

One of the reasons for my higher score was the detail of the footnotes in the trial records. Dr Munro attests: “I have encountered prisoners who spout incomprehensible gibberish; whose speech is nothing more than a stream of unintelligible, unconnected words, or is not even recognisable as language.*** “The footnote attached to this reads “A mischievous sketch in The Scotsman suggested that the prisoners to whom Dr Munro referred might merely have been speaking Gaelic.” I just think that the levels of fictional cleverness are stunning.

The second reason for my higher rating is also based on the quality of writing — one paragraph in particular that just struck me this time. It relates to the grief felt in his family after his mother’s death.

“This event brought about a great number of changes to our family. Chief among these was the general air of gloom which descended on our household and hung there like the reek. My father was the least changed of us, largely because he had never been much given to joviality. If we had once enjoyed some moments of collective amusement, it was always his laughter that died away first. He would cast his eyes downward as though this moment of pleasure shamed him. Now, however, his face acquired an unalterable bleakness, as if fixed by a change in the wind. I do not wish to portray my father as callous or unfeeling, nor do I doubt that his wife’s death grievously affected him. It is rather that he was better adapted to unhappiness, and that to no longer feel obliged to feign pleasure in this world came as a relief to him.” Not having to feign pleasure came as a relief. Stunning.

Finally, I was thinking of the unreliable narrator. As I read the book the second time, I liked Roderick, I wanted to like Roderick. Linda and Chris both mentioned the bullying. How much can a person take? But then there’s this little flash of the unreliable narrator. His neighbor mentions him peeping in windows at her daughters, the violation of Jetta’s private parts never mentioned in Roderick’s confession of his deeds. I’ve spent some time trying to reconcile those aspects with the simple Roderick of his own report. I’ll grant it’s not an easy book to read, but it is genius.

Our next meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, December 13, at my home. I have to go clean it.