You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life
In 2010, Raoul Moat, Geordie bodybuilder and mechanic, achieved brief notoriety when he shot his ex-girlfriend in the stomach, killed her new boyfriend, and then blinded a policeman. He evaded capture for seven days in the woods of Northumberland, only to be eventually cornered, shooting and killing himself.
Andrew Hankinson patches together a striking second-person narrative, largely using Moat’s own words. Sources include recordings of phone calls during an earlier stint in prison, and audio and written confessions he made while on the run, as well as a psychological questionnaire and suicide notes found in Moat’s house. Other sources, including court evidence, newspaper reports and a recording made by the police negotiator, are blended into the mix, all maintaining the illusion that we are in Moat’s mind.
The second-person voice is a notoriously tricky one to maintain and Hankinson uses it to great effect. Not only are we kept firmly in Moat’s head, there’s an urgency to the voice, maintained in stream-of-consciousness ramblings, punctuated by short staccato bursts. This urgency is reinforced by the chapter headings: “You will die in seven days”, “You will die in six days”, and so on. We know exactly where we are headed, as does Moat.
Another strength of the second-person narration is the overwhelming sense that Moat is not in control of his own narrative. The authorial voice regularly intervenes and corrects him in parenthesis – for example, after Moat talks about his interaction with social workers, the author interjects: “there is no evidence that any social workers did anything wrong”. It’s a powerful device, constantly reinforcing Moat’s self-delusions.
Neither of Moat’s ex-girlfriends – Sam, whom he shot, and Marissa, pre-Sam – wanted to speak to Hankinson. It’s always a conundrum for an author when this occurs. When Moat speaks constantly of his devotion to Sam, glossing over his violence, it runs perilously close to belittling the abuse, with Moat constantly stressing that he did it because he was in love.
Which leads me to my main reservation about the whole exercise – the predominance of style over substance. The devices that Hankinson uses to get us inside Moat’s head are stunningly effective, but I closed the book thinking that, ultimately, Moat’s head, with his lack of insight, wasn’t a very interesting place to be. EF
Scribe, 224pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 4, 2016 as "Andrew Hankinson, You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life". Subscribe here.