Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh

In Naming the Bones, the first book I’ve read by Louise Welsh, university lecturer Dr Murray Watson takes a sabbatical from work in order to research a new book on the life of Archie Lunan, a little-known Scottish poet. Lunan drowned in a sailing accident decades earlier and his death is still surrounded by mystery. Murray’s investigations take him from his home in Glasgow to the Isle of Lismore – where he learns more about Lunan’s life and death than he could ever have imagined and begins to ask himself the question: does knowing what an artist is like as a person really add to our appreciation and understanding of their work – or is the work best left to stand on its own?

Although I did end up enjoying this book, it wasn’t really what I was expecting at all – from the blurb and the quotes on the back of the book it sounded like it would be a fast-paced thriller. Unfortunately I really struggled to get through the first half of the book – it was very slow and there were too many sub-plots that didn’t seem to add much to the story – Murray’s affair with his head of department’s wife, for example, and his estrangement from his brother. But I did like Murray as a character – I found him a likeable and wryly funny narrator who seemed to stumble from one disaster to another – and I wanted to find out what had happened to Archie Lunan, so I was happy to keep reading.

In the second half of the book, when Murray arrived on the island of Lismore, the pace started to pick up and the story became very compelling. The island with its ruined castle, abandoned cottages and ancient broch provided an atmospheric setting for this part of the novel. Welsh increased the tension with every chapter, threw in some twists and surprises (though nothing too unbelievable) and left me feeling satisfied with the way the book had ended.

6 thoughts on “Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh

  1. Mel says:

    The title of this novel is intriguing in itself don’t you think? It sounds like the sort of story I would enjoy. The question the story raises about whether or not knowing what an artist is like adds to the appreciation of their work is interesting. I think we are so driven to find story everywhere and about everyone, that it would be difficult for any work to remain in a vacuum for long. I enjoyed reading your post.

    • Helen says:

      I was very intrigued by the title and the premise too, so was slightly disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it more – although the only problem I had with it really was the slow start. The second half was great.

  2. Annie says:

    Louise Welch is a writer who has never lived up to the promise of her first novel, ‘The Cutting Room’. I keep hoping, but somehow the magic seems to have died.

    • Helen says:

      I’d like to read The Cutting Room sometime but I’m not really in any hurry. I didn’t dislike this book, but didn’t think it was anything special either.

  3. FleurFisher says:

    I have to agree with Annie, and say that I have always loved the idea of Louise Welsh’s novels more than the books themselves. This one is in my library pile, but it hasn’t been calling too loudly.

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