Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘Naming the Bones’ by Louise Welsh

Rating: 2 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Genre: Thriller; detective fiction; contemporary fiction

Published: by CanonGate Books Limited in February 2011

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

Some secrets are best left buried …Knee-deep in the mud of an ancient burial ground, a winter storm raging around him, and at least one person intent on his death: how did Murray Watson end up here?

The Review

I tried to like this book on many different occasions, in many different moods and in many different ways – I failed so I’ll keep this reasonably brief!

Murray Watson is a disillusioned professor of English literature engaging in a saddening affair with a married woman and his feelings of desolation seep through every aspect of the book. He makes quite the pitiable figure and when I first started reading, I felt very sorry for him. Pity alone does not, however, make a great story.

The novel centres around Murray’s research into the life and, more importantly, death of Archie Lunan, a Scottish poet who had, it seemed, published but one volume of poems before dying seemingly at his artistic peak. Oddly, though, nobody else is really bothered about this apparent travesty. And that was one of my main problems – Murray is pursuing ghosts for the sake of having something to pursue.

When it came down to it, there just wasn’t enough action for the type of story that I felt like the book was trying to be; certainly not enough for the type of story the synopsis made out it was going to be. While the story had a realistic feel to it (i.e. the action was sustained at a level that might humanly be possible), there was something lacking. That extends up to the ‘climax’ of the novel. More melodrama than I knew what to do with and, because it was so out of kilter with the rest of the book, it just didn’t seem to fit..

And, before I convince you all that I’m miserable, I shall give you some positives! The story starts slowly but the pace does improve when Murray sets off to the secluded Isle of Lismore in pursuit of Archie’s former girlfriend. The setting is perfect and the atmosphere evokes a sense that isolation that mirrors Murray’s mindset wonderfully. The eccentric islanders Murray meets are a wonderful pick-me-up after being stuck with the morose protaganist for longer than is probably healthy! They are the main reason (my personal issues with not finishing books aside…) that I finished this book before I flung it at someone on the train.

Overall: This book just wasn’t for me – the tempestuous and rugged Isle of Lismore is a high point and the ending is reasonably dramatic, in an unexpected fashion. I’d recommend it if you’re yearning for a glimpse of Scottish island life but then again, if that’s what you’re looking for, you could probably find better elsewhere…