His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

His bloody project

His Bloody Project is the 2016 novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I picked it up on a whim whilst I was browsing the tables in Waterstones at the beginning of the year. I had come to read it a couple of times but for a reason I cannot pinpoint I just never got further than the first few pages. However, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in my ‘reading zone’, so I thought I would try again. This time, I had my full attention on the text in front of me, and I found that I just could not put the book down. I am usually quite a slow reader, so I was surprised to find I had finished the book in two days.

The story itself is set in 1869 and tells of the brutal murders of three people in Scotland. There is no mistaking who committed these murders, however, what we do not know is how the boy responsible found himself in the positon to commit the crime. And, at a time when hanging was still a punishment, we are taken on a journey to establish what will be the consequences of his actions.

I feel Burnet created something truly unique with his creation of His Bloody Project. I have searched online repeatedly trying to establish whether this was a true story, or whether it is simply imagination. I found myself doing this because the novel is so well structured. We are given witness accounts, a memoir written whilst the alleged murderer is in jail, doctors reports and a day by day retelling of the trial. Therefore, the novel is easily mistaken for being simply a collection of found documents. So, although as far as I am aware it is completely fiction, we get a sense of an author who has done thorough research into his subject. As a reader this gives us a real sense of rural life in Scotland in the mid-19th century, as well as insight into the approach taken in the criminal justice system at the time.

If you have read one of my previous blog posts, So much history…, you will be aware I am currently taking part in a research project, Writing Lives, which looks into working-class autobiographies. Throughout my participation in this project I have been focusing on a memoir written by a man in rural England. So, when it came to reading His Bloody Project I was completely in my zone. The ‘memoir’ that Burnet includes was my favourite section of the novel. This is because we got a sense of what the alleged murderer was thinking leading up to the crime and whilst he was in prison. Through my participation is Writing Lives I have acquired the skills to look at a piece of autobiographical writing and read between the lines, thus, the memoir that Burnet created was a joy to read…even if it is fiction.

Although His Bloody Project does not follow the traditional ideals of novels that I am used to, and that I love, I would recommend the book for others to read. It provides brilliant insight into a world away from the one many of us are used to. Each, and every, section of the novel entices you to want to continue in your journey. Therefore, do not be surprised if you, like me, rush through this novel in a couple of days. It an interesting and remember able journey and destination that the Burnet takes you to. And, if you do enjoy this book, make sure you do check out the Writing Lives project, for some fascinating and very true memoirs penned by the British working-class.

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The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

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The Light Between Oceans is the 2012 debut novel by M. L. Stedman. It is a novel classed as war fiction, however, aside from Tom Sherbourne’s (one of the main characters) PTSD and few references about the First World War, there is little content that is explicitly about the war. The novel follows Tom after his return to Australia, from the Western front, and his decision to take a job as a lighthouse keeper on the isolated Janus Rock.

I think this is one of the best novels I have read in a while. It is beautifully written, and is a truly unique story. In the novel, Stedman effectively explores human morals, and the effects our decisions can have, not just on ourselves, but those around us. The struggle I had with this novel, and why it pulled on my heartstrings, was because the main characters Tom and Isabel are good people. They both had good intentions, they just make a bad decision. Stedman created so much depth in the characters and the story that I found myself struggling to dislike the characters for their actions. You truly find yourself justifying their decisions and hoping that their lives will continue happily. However, like any good novel, this does not necessarily happen the way you would expect. Stedman, as the story progresses, does not deliver a conclusion that is easily guessed. The story continues to throw us off, and gives us twists and turns, making it impossible to know where the story will end, until it does.

The novel itself was adapted into a film in 2016, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. I watched this film after reading Stedman’s novel, and although it is fairly true to the book, I could not help but feel a disconnection with it. I feel in the book we are given a better insight into the run up to the ‘decision’ and the feelings involved in it. Thus, the movie, for me, did not provide the emotional, heart wrenching response that the novel gave me. I wanted to touch upon the film though because sometimes people do the book/film order the other way around to me. I.e watch the film and then read the book. Therefore, if you have watched the film and not connected with it, I do not want you to be put off from reading Stedman’s novel. I promise you, you will not regret it!

This novel is great for those who love a good romance, or who like a good period drama or who want to read something with more depth. I found it to be one of those books that just stayed with me for some time after I had finished it – it truly haunted me for some time. I cannot give enough praise to M. L. Stedman for her work, thus I encourage you to pick up this novel and immerse yourself in the story.

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Alice (The Chronicles of Alice, Book 1) by Christina Henry

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Alice is the first book by Christina Henry in The Chronicles of Alice series. To put it simply, the book is a twist on the popular children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass, written by Lewis Carroll. Though it is a twist on these children’s books, I would not recommend Henry’s books to be read by a child. It is a dark story with some explicit ideologies, thus it should be left to an older audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this twist on Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland stories. Henry’s story is a completely unique reinvention of the story we all know. The dark and disturbing elements just make the original so much more compelling. Although the story can be vulgar, I think it is a quite enjoyable adventure that Henry takes us on, as she provides twists and turns throughout her novel. Although it is a unique story, Henry effectively includes so many of Carroll’s elements. For example, the characters are all there, just re-imagined into something else, and most of all, Henry’s novel is just as ‘trippy’ (for want of a better word) as Carroll’s original story.

I honestly cannot think of much that I did not like, aside from the fact that the novel did not go on for longer. However, since this is the first in a series, I can accept that this fantastic re-imagination will continue in Henry’s second book, Red Queen. If you are looking for something with a lot of depth and deep meaning, however, this book is probably not for you. I did not find that this book lead me to question our existence, or my path in life etc, but it is a novel that will leave you thinking ‘what did I just read’. – In the most positive way possible!

I am somebody who is not easily offended though. I like reading and exploring a huge range of topics, including the more dark and taboo concepts. However, I realise many people are not like this. So, as a warning, I will say that the book contains a lot of violence, and a lot of references to rape. This is a ‘theme’, is you like, that runs throughout the novel, therefore if this is something that you are not necessarily comfortable with, I would possibly think twice about reading this novel.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

the haunting of hill house

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a twentieth century horror novel, considered one of the best of the century. The story sees four strangers, Dr.Montague, Eleanor, Theodora and Luke, make a visit to Hill House. Hill House is an eight-year-old mansion built by the long-gone Hugh Crain. The strangers are brought to Hill House by Dr.Montague who hopes to find evidence that the paranormal exists.

This is a novel that I was required to read for my university course, and surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is not often I read a book that I am told I must read and find that I really enjoy it. Just like many gothic novels this novel keeps the reader guessing throughout its entirety. The characters experience numerous events, and the reader is left questioning whether the events are really happening. This is because alongside the paranormal events, Jackson creates characters who are far more in depth than the stereotypical characters in horror movies. i.e hot, college students having a sleepover; you know the ones! Eleanor, for example, the reader learns to be a very vulnerable woman suffering from guilt over her mother’s death. And Theodora is very much the opposite, she is an eccentric artist who we learn has had psychic experiences. Therefore, Jackson’s characters are very subjective to what is going on in the novel, so they cannot necessarily be relied upon

Though I believe this novel to be brilliant, I was a little bit disappointed with the ending. I thought the ending of the story was very abrupt. I even had to go back over the last couple of pages when I had finished, as I did not process what had happened. This was not because I could not believe it, but more because I just did not understand what had happened. I felt it was not as explicit as it should have been. Jackson does however carry on after the final event for one last paragraph. I feel this small paragraph is an attempt to close the novel seamlessly, however for me, it just did not work.

Out of all the novels I have read, The Haunting of Hill House has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. Therefore, I would one hundred percent recommend this novel to anybody who is into horror novels. However, I would also recommend this novel to somebody who is not necessarily a fan of the horror genre. This is because there is so much more going on, aside from the apparent poltergeist. It is an adventure to be discovered!

side note: The novel has also been adapted into two films, both titled simply ‘The Haunting’. One from the 1960’s and the other from the 1990’s which stars Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson. 

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Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher

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Billy and Me, Giovanna Fletcher’s debut novel, is quite simply a romance novel. It focuses upon a small town / village girl Sophie May and Billy, a famous actor. The basis for the story line is pretty much ‘can these two total opposites successfully be together in a committed relationship?’ Alongside this though, the reader is teased with a secret that Sophie May is anxious to divulge to her love interest, Billy.

I enjoyed this novel, but only to an extent. I liked the concept behind the story, the idea of exploring whether two opposites can really be happy together. I liked the exploration of family bonds and relationships that Fletcher uses alongside the main story line. I liked the contrasting worlds that Fletcher presented between Sophie May’s life and Billy’s life. And I liked the first half of the novel – maybe a little less than that though. Harsh? Maybe. But I just could not stomach the character of Sophie May. At the beginning of the novel I was optimistic for her character but as time went on I just felt this huge dislike for her build and build. Now, if this dislike in the main character had been built on purpose, I may have been able to accept it. However, I do not believe that this was Fletcher’s intentions. To me, it appears Fletcher was desperately trying to make the reader feel sympathy for Sophie May and her situation, but I feel the intense effort in trying to accomplish this let the character down.

A big part of the story line in Billy and Me is the secret that Sophie May holds from Billy. This is built up for some of the novel, however Sophie May soon divulges said secret to the reader (Billy still being unaware). Although this story telling technique is often very effective, I felt this to heighten my dislike for Sophie May. This is because I was aware of her secret and why she was panicking at times, however I just could not justify her responses and worry over the said event. Maybe I’ve read too many crime and thriller novels, but I wanted the secret to be far more gripping, and a little less underwhelming.

I tend to pick up romance novels as a break from the intense reads that I am required to read on my university course. I find the romance genre to be full of easy reads, something I can just relax with, both mentally and physically. So, I did not pick up Billy and Me thinking it would be a world changing piece of work, I was simply hoping for an ‘easy read’. However, due to my complete dislike for the main character I found this novel to be far from an ‘easy read’. I was constantly rolling my eyes at the character’s actions and thoughts, and crying for the women everywhere, because of the way the novel portrays us.

Billy and Me is therefore a novel that I would struggle to recommend to a friend. However, if you are somebody who does not get too irked by characters in books maybe you’ll have some luck with this novel. Although I have been disappointed with the novel i would love to hear what you think about Fletcher’s story and characters. Maybe you’ll help to open my eyes and heart to Fletcher’s creation…maybe.

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories by Stephen King. This is his sixth published collection of short stories. Some of the stories included in the collection however have been printed or have been previously available online. For example Blockade Billy can be found published alone and Mile 51 and Ur have been available on Kindle. Although this is the case, in an author’s note at the beginning of the publication King writes ‘some of these stories have been previously published, but that doesn’t mean they were done then’. Thus, as readers we are given the understanding that there could be changes and improvements to the stories, that they should not be overlooked.

Although I am nowhere near an expert in King’s work, and have only ready a small number of his publications, I am a fan of his. Therefore, when I came across this publication of short stories, I did not hesitate to purchase it. I do not often read short stories however at a time when I was not ready to commit to a full length novel I thought The Bazaar of Bad Dreams would be perfect. This was because I figured that short stories would be a low commitment. However, upon reading the first couple of stories I could not put the book down. I found each story was so well written, engaging and gripping that I did not want to cease reading them. Understandably, I do have favourites in the collection. These being, Ur, The Little Green God of Agony, and Obits. Although these are three stories which are extremely different, all three presented a different reality. Ur, presenting a story about alternative realities, The Little Green God of Agony, a story displaying an exorcism type event and Obits about a columnist who can kill people by writing their obituaries. These were three concepts which intrigued me the most and found that I could not pause from reading. From these three stories alone, you can see just how diverse this collection of King’s work is.

The diversity in this collection is something which thoroughly surprised me. As somebody who thinks of Stephen King and only pictures horror, I have been pleasantly surprised. I have been introduced to new sides of King, sides that I did not know existed. Thus, I am more inclined to delve further into his many literary works and discover how much more King can surprise and challenge my initial perceptions of him and his writing.

Alongside each story, King offers up an intimate author’s note which introduces each tale to the reader. This is something I have not yet come across and thus makes each short story more unique and personal. As we discover where the idea for the story stemmed from and why King felt the need to write the following story. This draws us, as readers, closer to the author, enabling us understanding of the mindset and the feelings King had whilst writing the stories. Something which is so rarely done with the literature we read.

Out of the publications I have read recently The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is one of my favourites. It is perfect for those who do not wish to commit to a full-length novel, for those who are die hard King fans and those who may not have read King’s work before. The amount of diversity King offers us as a reader means that there is something for everyone. And I would highly recommend you find your ‘bad dream’.

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Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

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Enduring Love is a novel written by British writer Ian McEwan. The story revolves around two strangers whose lives become entangled following a deadly incident. Although the novel has received mixed reviews, I have found this novel to be extremely thought provoking and engaging. The gripping events of McEwan’s first chapter excellently sets up the continuation of the novel. McEwan’s writing in this chapter is beautiful and emotional thus we experience the events alongside McEwan’s main characters Joe and Clarissa. We are brought along on the journey of coming to terms with the events of the first chapter. We, alongside the characters, are faced with questions of love, trust, and moral dilemmas.

What I enjoyed about this novel is how the relationship between Joe, Clarissa and Jed, three of the people present at the ‘incident’, is portrayed. As the novel progresses from the initial chapter we learn that Jed has become obsessed with Joe, and thus becomes Joe’s stalker. However, when reading the novel I found myself questioning what was the true reality of the situation. This is because I found, through the conversations between Joe and Clarissa and conversations between Joe and Jed, I begun to question what was really happening. Was there more than meets the eye? (so to speak).

However, although I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this novel took me on, I was a little disappointed with the ending. I felt it ended a little flat. For the length of time this novel took to tell its story you cannot help but be a little disappointed with its conclusion. I was definitely hoping for a little more than McEwan gave us.

The novel is brilliant in the way it demonstrates our mortality and questions themes of love, trust, and morality. It is a novel that provokes thought and reasoning from the reader, thus it makes an interesting read. I am a big fan of Ian McEwan, however, if you’re new to his work I would recommend starting with one of his other novels. (maybe, Atonement) As although Enduring Love is engaging, the novel does fall flat towards the end. It is therefore not a novel to judge Ian McEwan’s work on, as he has written many other excellent pieces of work. (Atonement, The Child in Time, Saturday)

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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Birdsong is the second novel in Sebastian Faulks’ French trilogy. Preceded by The Girl at the Lion d’Or and succeeded by Charlotte Gray. Although each novel is not directly linked, the novels relate in term of their themes and subject matters; they all graphically portray characters’ lives during war time. Birdsong is set around the First World War. The story itself centres around the character Stephen Wraysford who arrives in the French town of Amiens in 1910. Throughout the novel, we see the twist and turns of Stephen’s life, from his love affair which tears a family apart, to his participation in the war itself.

Birdsong is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a novel which keeps you on your toes and guessing about where the story is heading from beginning to end. The contrasts Faulks creates between life prior to the war and during the war is fascinating. By using vivid imagery, we as readers, get a thorough image of what life was like for soldiers fighting in the war. However, what Faulks does often and brilliantly, during more grotesque war scenes is leave many chapters on cliff hangers, by moving on to something new in the next. This you may feel is counterproductive, you may think how can you get a true grasp of the story this way. But Faulks writes in such a way that he divulges just enough information to understand the horrors of the war without making the reader feel so grotesque and so repulsed that they cannot continue with the story. This I feel was extremely effective in my reading of the novel as this technique continuously made me want to progress further and further with the novel.

As somebody who finds The Great War to be an extremely interesting topic I am a little bias when it comes to speaking about this novel. However, if you are going to read any piece of fiction that revisits this era I encourage you to make it Faulks’ novel. The descriptive language, the tone and passion that pours from the book makes this novel one in a million.

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End note: Working Title Films (BBC) produced a two-part adaptation of Birdsong in 2012. The adaptation starred the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Richard Madden and Clémence Poésy. 

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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The Vegetarian is a novel by Han Kang. I came across this novel, translated by Deborah Smith, in Waterstones. It is not a novel I had heard about before but I just knew I had to give it a read. It also helped that one of the booksellers was saying how gruesome and slightly disturbing the story was!

The novel itself is short so I found myself getting through it quickly. It is split up into three ‘sections’. Each one comes from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes I do find this a little annoying as you can feel as though you are not properly connecting with a protagonist. However, upon reading this novel it is easy to see how keeping it written in a single perspective would just not work. Therefore, I feel it is giving us a more rounded picture as we progress through the novel.

The first section is narrated by Yeong-Hye’s husband, he tells us about his wife who in the first couple of lines he describes as being ‘completely unremarkable in every way.’ He informs the reader of Yeong-Hye’s choice to become a vegetarian. Although he himself is a little confused as to her reasons for this lifestyle choice, we as the reader get glimpses of her reasoning. We are giving the gruesome, slightly disturbing, ‘dream’ Yeong-Hye often refers to.

The second section is darker than the first. It is narrated by Mr Cheung, Yeong-Hye’s brother in law. Mr Cheung is an aspiring artist who becomes fascinated with his sister in law and a birthmark that she potentially has. Through this he asks Yeong-Hye to feature in one of his artistic creations, a video.

The third section is when the novel becomes very weird. It is narrated by Yeong-Hye’s sister and this is when we see the true progression of Yeong-Hye’s vegetarianism. We realise quickly how extreme Yeong-Hye’s desires have become, we learn that she wants to become a tree. Intent on becoming a tree, she refuses food and does some pretty bizarre things. Unaware it seems, how she is hurting those around her.

I found the book extraordinary. More so because it is unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s completely bizarre, but in this I feel it captures the essence of ‘madness’. As Ian McEwan is quoted on the cover: ‘A novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success’. For a reader, this ‘madness’ is completely over our heads. I personally found it difficult to keep up with, simply because it is not something I am able to fully understand. I feel this is similar for a lot of people. The point is though, even though it seems bizarre, it all makes sense to Yeong-Hye. Her thoughts, aspirations and actions all make perfect sense. To her they are not madness, but they are reality. This is something I find interesting; everyone’s reality is different. Although yes her actions may be killing her, it leaves me with a bit more of an understanding of what we deem ‘mad’. An understanding that people we brush off as just being ‘mad’ are simply seeing a different reality to the one I am seeing. Does that make it Yeong-Hye’s or anybody else’s fault? Definitely not, they have simply just been giving a different sense of reality.

Although I don’t believe this book is for everybody, it has been blessed with some brilliant reviews: The Guardian called it ‘an extraordinary experience’ and the Independent called it ‘spellbinding’. For this alone I would be enticed to see what the fuss was about. Therefore I encourage you to take a couple of hours and read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, to see what you make of it yourself.

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The Beginning of the End

And just like that I have made it to my third year of university. I’m not sure how I have got myself here, or why it has gone so quickly. But nevertheless it is here and I am feeling mixed emotions. Happy because I have got myself thus far, but sad that it is nearly over. It is therefore ‘the beginning of the end.’ It’s such a cliché but it honestly does feel like yesterday that I was moving into student halls for my first year. Now here I am, moved in and settled into the house for my final year.

fullsizerenderI am living in the same house as I was last year. However, I have moved rooms in order to maintain the excitement of redecorating an alien space to make it my own. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the new room is significantly larger. I always get a buzz out of redecorating a new room as I feel like it’s part of the experience of moving away. Being able to decorate a space and anything and everything is completely up to you. I’ve also noticed that each year I tend to progress and change styles. Is this me growing up? My first year I can remember my room just felt so chaotic. There was stuff everywhere. Fair enough the room was smaller but still why didn’t I buy storage?! This year though is significantly different. I have been adult enough to buy storage and a mini book-case. I have also gone for, I feel, a very minimalist look. I have left so many clothes and so many ‘things’ that I never wore and never used at home. And my god don’t I feel good about it. Why do we think we need all this stuff? Like I used to pack things with a ‘just in case’ mindset. It’s just crazy. But here I am, having got two years of IMG_1939.JPGpacking experience behind me. I have made progress.

What is also sad about this year is that it was (or should be) the last year I will get to experience freshers as a student. There is a stark contrast between my freshers in third year and my freshers in first year. I didn’t realise it would be quite so bad, but I did find myself only going out twice in the week/two-week freshers. Compare that to first year where I went out more or less every day, yeah there’s a difference. But you know what? I didn’t miss it, and I don’t regret not going out more. I’ve said it for a while now, but I really do think I’m getting to that point where I’d definitely rather have a chill night in than going to a club. Plus, I’d rather keep the money myself than spend it on taxis, alcohol, entry fees and end of the night food. This img_1988lack of going out has even done me good. I decided to give Bootea a go. Just as little detox, try to sort me out a bit. I’m half way through now and I think it’s going well. It hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it would be to keep on track and keep drinking the teas. Also, they’re not as disgusting as I have seen a lot of people say. Granted the night-time tea is the best of the two, but the morning isn’t terrible.

However what hasn’t changed for me this year though is my addiction to shopping. I swear it’s like when people go bungee jumping or take drugs or I dunno. I seem to get some kind of high from spending, which later dwindles once I realise the damage I’ve done. First step of an addiction is admitting to it, right? Maybe by the end of the year I’ll be on my way to getting ‘sober’. Either way though the start of a new uni year in shopping terms only ever means img_1877the latest student fest in Liverpool. This is a great time for people like me. Anywhere and everywhere in town have the greatest student deals, offering crazy discounts. For just one day only it’s impossible to resist. Understandably then, I was unable to. I admit I spent more than intended. However, I did buy some great things. A lot of these I will admit come under the heading of ‘make-up’. I will be writing a blog about all the products I got my hands on. So really? I was just doing research for my blog. It’s all for you! Aside from the make-up though I want to direct attention to two of my favourite purchases so far. First is this gorgeous green knitted dress, perfect for the colder days. I found it in New Look, I think it was only like £20. It’s definitely not something I would usually go for but it is super comfy and just completely on point that I couldn’t resist. Secondly is these amazing trainers I bought. From Primark of all places. I rarely  shop there, and I don’t think I’ve img_1940ever bought a pair of shoes from there. But, I have fallen in love. The image doesn’t do them justice. They are gold and glittering and so ridiculously comfy. It’s hard to comprehend how they only cost £12. I will certainly be checking out their trainer selection more often. Watch this space!

Now the idea is concentrate on uni. Somehow I’ve managed to get a timetable that involves me being in uni only twice a week this semester. So I pray I’m not silly enough to start having the casual ‘sick day’ like I have done the previous two years. I am so far, you’ll be glad to hear, doing well! Time will tell though. I’m also contemplating getting a job alongside my studies. I’m not sure how wise this idea is in third year, but I could do with the extra cash for so many different reasons. If you have had any experience of working alongside img_1936your studies I would love to hear about it! I don’t feel like I have a lot of work to do, this semester I only have four assignments, but there is just so much to read.(the image shows less than a quarter of what i need to read) How is it possible? Because I don’t know anybody that manages to read all of the required reading let alone the recommended. So who decided this was all humanly possible? I’d like to know.

Anyway, I say time and time again but I’m hoping to improve my blogging. The content and the rate, most importantly the rate! When else in my life am i gonna have so much free time to just sit and blog? Maybe this beginning of the end will turn out to simply be the beginning of something great. Who knows? So this is me here saying as the adult I have become, I will do this. (Please Hannah do this) so….

Until next time…

x