Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
Strange and compelling.
on 14 November 2014
This novel opens in hilarity, with an account by the "editor" of a Scottish laird's ill-starred marriage and the two sons it produced. The couple and the sons are alike estranged, and the sons meet as youths in animosity. This leads to a fateful encounter, whose forensic aftermath is the clumsiest and dullest stretch of the book; but a third of the way through the narrative switches to the first-person memoir of the eponymous 'sinner', which is rather more interesting.
The sinner is 'justified' in that he considers himself chosen by God, his place in heaven reserved. Consequently, all his deeds, even his crimes, must be God's will. He is encouraged in this outlook by a mysterious stranger, a diabolical double who both fascinates and manipulates him, egging him on to ever greater atrocities.
In this, the novel is a satire on Calvinist predestination, but it also partakes of the Gothic, the folktale, the psychological thriller, allegory and tragedy. The inescapable bond between the protagonist and his nemesis calls to mind "Frankenstein", "Caleb Williams", and "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde". The ingenuous editor, the discovered manuscript and its unreliable narrator form an intriguing metafictional artifice that adds another layer of provocative doubt. The principal interest is the process by which the intelligent, well-meaning and devout confessor is brought down by his own arrogance and his interlocutor's cunning exploitation of his own logic. It's quite a novelty, both a product of its time and weirdly original.