Tuesday, 2 August 2016

You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) by Andrew Hankinson Review

In the early hours of 3 July 2010 near Newcastle, Raoul Moat, a 37-year-old bodybuilder/mechanic, recently released from prison, shot his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend with a sawn-off shotgun before going on the run; his ex would survive but the boyfriend died. Moat would go on to shoot a police officer (who survived but was permanently blinded – unable to cope with his disability, he committed suicide two years later) before being cornered by police after six days and killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head. 

Like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Andrew Hankinson’s You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) is a non-fiction novel, using letters and tape recordings made by Moat while on the run to recreate his voice and mind-set in a chronological narrative of his final days from his prison release to his death. 

It’s a grimly compelling book that successfully manages to take the reader into Moat’s head to catch a glimpse of what drove him to such extremes. The book’s greatest achievement is in humanising Moat – not making him sympathetic, because he’s not; besides the shootings, he beat his partner and kids and his brief stay in prison was due to assault of a minor – by showing the reader the everyday frustrations that had built up over the years and finally overwhelmed him. Evil is not unknowable, it’s all around us; its potential is in all of us but some are less equipped to deal with life’s trials and so we get people like Raoul Moat completely losing it. 

After we learn about Moat’s life and he’s carried out the shootings, the book sags in the middle as Moat’s directionless ramblings repeat his problems: how his ex means the world to him, his paranoid delusions of the police persecuting him, blaming his bad childhood, and on and on. I understand why this lengthy passage is included – to show us the mundanity of a so-called monster – but re-reading information we learned earlier in the book is still an extremely onerous part of an otherwise fast-moving and gripping read. 

I liked Hankinson’s choice to write the book in the second person – “You” over “I” or “He” – which gives it a personal immediacy for the reader. Hankinson’s touch is very light, allowing the material to speak for itself and only really interjecting with facts in brackets () to bring clarity and real-world perspective to Moat’s semi-fabricated worldview (you can see this clever approach reflected in the title too).

You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) is a fascinating account of the 2010 Northumbria Police manhunt from the perspective of the killer. It’s also not the cheeriest of reads but it does give you an idea of the ordinariness of the reasoning behind some extraordinary actions and reminds you that humans are never monsters – they’re always human.

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