I bought this during one of the bookdepository sales and I’ll be honest. I had never heard of James Hogg or the novel (not entirely blasphemous for an English student seeing as how it is Scottish, but scandalous nonetheless). I bought it because it belonged to the number of books the Penguin English Library brought out last year in fantastic new covers- my goal is to own all of them at some point. So I bought the book and to my surprise it was right up my alley with features like murder, supernatural and crazy people. Short summary and review after the jump
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is written in a very peculiar way. The first part features the main story as told from the position of the story’s editor. Robert Wringhim, the justified sinner himself, narrates the second part; he provides more detail to the story than the editor is able to. The final part of the novel once again gives way to the editor and he tells how he came in possession of Wringhim. Robert, A Calvanist who believes he is one of God’s chosen people and can thus do no wrong , goes through his life wronging people who, in his eyes, deserve what they get and he is helping God in exacting punishment on them (hence the title). The punishment’s however are never really severe. When he encounters someone, who can apparently change his appearance to whomever he wants, Robert’s moral compass goes pretty much haywire and together they enact awful crimes of which Robert starts to ponder whether Heaven will still be open to him after all.
I enjoyed what was then probably a very uncommon story structure(the novel was published in 1824). The recount from two different storytellers gives the reader two different accounts to the same story. Indeed, the two narrators themselves are very much each other’s opposites. While Robert is devout and believes in otherworldly occurrences, the editor is very much a scientific man, and believes Robert to be more delusional in the accounts found in his manuscript. The notion of the double is also found in Robert’s account of his mysterious shapeshifter friend. The man, often taking the form of Robert himself, is also able to encounter the persons exact feelings and often location of where the true person is resideing at the moment, almost like some sort of supernatural empath. While his true identity is never revieled but I honestly think he’s Satan tricking Robert into committing horrible crimes. He could however also be God or one of his angels, sent to test Robert and to see if he would do the bad things asked of him, though I quickly threw this possibility out the window after the first crime is committed and many more crimes follow.
The story is short so I thought I’d probably have it done within three days max. Three days turned into five, which turned into a week which would turn into two weeks. So why did it take me so long to get through it? Let’s just say that just like any other guy, multitasking is hard for me and it was difficult deciphering the Scottish dialect- which isn’t always present but does appear during crucial parts of the story- and also computing the meaning of the written words at the same time, so that I had to re-read several passages more than once. That isn’t to say that it was irritating (well maybe a little) I thought it was fun to read the way these people talked-especially is you read it out loud to get and got the Scottish accent going.
So what, in the end, is the novel actually about? I like to see it as an allegory, with a warning; Robert is very much like every one of us and easily susceptible to the surroundings. James Hogg, who had trouble being taken seriously when he was alive, somewhat resembles Robert in that aspect as well, which gave me the idea that Robert may have been modeled after himself; Robert’s ongoing duty to his manuscript and wanting for it to be taken seriously reflects Hogg and his own work. Hogg, did finally receive recognition, though it would be long after his death. I’m glad he did, because the story was nice and I may revisit it in the future to uncover what I didn’t get the first time.
You can buy The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner here
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