This book is also on the 19th Century Novel reading list and although it is a rather short novel, this topics and plots that are discussed seem never-ending across a lengthy period of time. The text itself is split into two sections that are the Editor’s narrative and the Confessions of a Sinner which is how the story of the brothers Robert and George is told in the text. The novel focuses on the idea of the differing views in society at the time when this was written and looks at the conflicting views of the religion and supernatural against the new scientific concepts.
Religion is unquestionably the main topic in this novel which is question and the idea of the supernatural vs. science is always present. Gil-Martin’s character is a clear example of this and can be seen as both a figment of Robert’s imagination and an interpretation of the devil. Gil-Martin dominates Robert’s confessions and is a disturbing figure through the entirety of the book. Robert’s Calvinist beliefs are played upon by the figure of Gil-Martin and he is convinced by him to commit the murders. He believes that he will not be damned yet when he is unable to flee Gil, he kills himself which suggests the question of his soul remains unanswered.
The plot itself recounts the same events from two different perspectives and forms the concept of duality in this play: the two families, the two brothers, the two plots, Gil-Martin’s dual personality etc. There are three scenes that make up the basis on these perspectives and they are the tennis match, the scene at Arthur’s seat and the death of Robert’s brother George. All of these scenes are portrayed differently in the two halves of the novel and are supposedly meant to add to the confusion surrounding the text. Even the two ending parts of the separate sections are similar as the abrupt ending of the women’s quest for revenge foreshadows Hogg’s closure of the novel.
This is shown in the end of the novel that sees the author revert back to the Editor’s narrative and includes an appearance from James Hogg himself. This distances himself from his own text and suggests that all of the ideas that have been considered are far too complicated for him to even think about. Overall, this novel is very clever in the way in which it presents itself but is slightly frustrating as it leaves all the questions that it has raised unanswered. Therefore it gains a solid 7/10 and is definitely a good book to read if you like any other Scottish fiction or works relating to the portrayal of Religion.