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Louise Welsh's superb "Naming the Bones" is a book it is as hard to categorise as it is easy to appreciate and enjoy. Which might suggest that the best approach is to stop trying to categorise it and simply sit back and enjoy it. Nonetheless, as your are drawn irresistibly into an ever deeper plot, you cannot help but wonder whether you are reading a crime drama or a more innocent account of one man's rather obsessive pursuit of his academic studies.
The style and approach is superb and the reader is instantly engaged in the very convincing lives of very real characters. This is Louise Welsh's fourth novel and it is easy to see why she is building such a reputation as an author who brings a high degree of literary skill to her subjects.
In this case the book's central character is Dr Murray Watson, an academic in the English Literature Department of Glasgow University. He is seeking to bring to a wider audience the life and work of Archie Lunan, an underappreciated (in Watson's view) Scottish poet who lived fast and then died young in a boating accident off the island of Lismore, leaving behind one published collection of poetry and a large number of unanswered questions. Watson's quest to find those who remember Lunan, and who are prepared to talk about him, leads him to and through a beautifully drawn Edinburgh, and then to the island of Lismore where the plot accelerates towards a breathless conclusion.
This is a book it is possible to enjoy on many different levels, not least because of the care and detail the author expends on even the most minor of characters. Watson is turned away from the Lismore ferry in Oban by a ferryman who insists he must wait five hours for the next boat. He asks a bystander "What's his problem?" and is told: "If you're enquiring about his temperament, I'd say an undemonstrative father combined with overexposure to the United Free Church and a lack of serotonin. But if you're asking why he didn't let you on board, my guess would be the building lorry brought them up to weight."