Walking the tightrope between what is morally right and wrong is more dangerous that you think...
I had never contemplated the justice system from the probationary officer’s perspective. This entirely unglamorous, rarely discussed occupation is startlingly powerful and yet has mysteriously fallen between the cracks of literature; that is, until Ruth Dugdall created Cate Austin and opened up a whole new dimension to our legal system.
Alice Mariani has been found guilty of “assisted suicide”; an illegal act in Britain, despite protestations that suicide is a personal choice and if that individual wishes to take their own life; that is their right and anyone present or involved should not be subsequently punished. Austin’s job is to provide the court with a recommendation on the length and type of sentence that is handed down, but she’s stuck with Mariani. Her story doesn’t quite ring true and the abrupt psychotic break that lands her in a psychiatric ward fails to assuage Austin’s suspicions. The problem is: all the evidence clearly points to suicide. There’s a note written by the ‘victim’, a raft of email correspondence detailing his desire to overdose and for Mariani to be there – even to eat a part of him as well as precedents set across Europe. Mariani’s side of the story hangs on an unlikely love affair that grew out of the victim’s desire to die. The mode of death was meticulously planned, ritualistic, almost spiritual – but still Austin cannot shake a feeling of unease. It is the victim’s diary that finally sheds light on the true motivations behind the victim’s death-wish, the cannibalism playing a pivotal part and as Austin reads on, she discovers that victim may be murderer and murderer may be victim.
The Sacrificial Man is unflinching in its analysis of the complexity of the human psyche: the rationalisation of unfathomable acts of self-mutilation; the horror that lurks in the broken mind; the sickness that twists the moral compass beyond recognition. There is also the inscrutable lightness: the bond between teenage mother and child, the adulation that would lead you to do anything to stopper your loved-one’s pain… It is the clash of light and dark, sweet and bitter, destructive and tender that Dugdall emblazons the story into your retinas and into your brain. As repulsive as it is compulsive; The Sacrificial Man takes us on a sobering journey into a world of psychosis, sexual abuse, neglect, drug addiction, cannibalism and an act so horrific in conception it can only be described as evil.
Dugdall challenges our preconceptions on just about every emotive topic out there. Bold and clever in her storytelling, she forces a spotlight into the darkest corners of humanity. But what really chills is the realisation that whilst we can look away, back to the light; a probationary officer lives with the dark.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012