Review: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Something that has affected one as profoundly as this novel has affected me is difficult to do justice to in a brief review; but it is harder to do it justice in a longer format, so this will have to serve as a short, scattered, and unworthy paean to a novel of such sinister and cosmic power, that my fingers literally tremble when it comes up for discussion.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a dreamy, poisonous, utterly enthralling portrait of the latent (and perhaps extant, perhaps non-extant) evils of a world seeking the favors of God. But it is also a testament to the power of faith, for good or ill, and its pages do not drip solely with venom, but also with ambivalence: such heady themes leave a great deal open to interpretation, and like all of the best polemics, Justified Sinner leaves a great deal of its 'conclusions' open-ended.

Words, brief and fickle, fail to summarize Hogg's novel. It is a convoluted and absolutely fascinating study of doubles: double-thoughts, double-motives, double-narrators, double-faiths. That at its heart is a black and troubling mysticism more brooding and pernicious than even its titular Sinner is testament to its powerful mastery of the clean and the unclean, here tempered in a very personal alchemy to produce a narrative of unwavering enigma.

Above all, it is a novel of religion: a firm rejection of Calvinistic dogma and the caustic tenets of Predestination, and a peerless embodiment of the private faith at the roots of some of the darkest shadows of the Romantic's muse. Hogg is an eerie prophet, and this complex, eddying tale his opus, revealed through the syrupy fog of confession, violence, madness, and reprobation. The suspicion that we cannot trust multiple, and even third-party, points of view (despite the relative merits of each) is genius; the suggestion that an entity as singular and terrifying as Gil-Martin may both exist and yet also not exist, the mark of an author of exceptional gifts and striking power.

In short (and like the rest of these meditations, sketched out but not yet illustrated in color): perdition is spilled upon these pages, and yet also the unmistakable ghost of an uncanny and all-knowing grace.

Highly, highly recommended.


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