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on 7 March 2010
In this, her fourth novel, Louise Welsh approaches the notion of crime from a different angle. The standard interpretation, that of the perpetration of an unlawful act, is laid to one side in favour of creating a story that hinges on an act (a series of acts, even) of serious moral wrongdoing. This has the effect of blurring the boundary between the crime-writing genre and literary fiction and, it must be said, the author pulls it off admirably.

Naming the Bones is set in the competitive world of Scottish academia; in particular, the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Doctor Murray Watson, a Glasgow professor of English literature, sets himself the task, by way of writing a book, of restoring the image of Archie Lunan, a promising poet whose early death 30 years previously had consigned him to obscurity.

Lunan had died in mysterious circumstances on the remote Scottish island of Lismore and was buried there. Murray bases his research on a close reading of a slim volume of Lunan's poetry, a box of barely decipherable papers and word-of-mouth testimony of those among his academic peers who claimed to have known Lunan.

However what started as research soon becomes a quest to seek out the truths, not only about Lunan's life and death but also about what lies behind the climate of intrigue, deviancy and betrayal he discovers to be prevalent in the universities.

Thus the reader is presented with the trope of a writer/critic cast in the role of an amateur detective. A role that, incidentally, also serves to send Murray on a journey of self-discovery in which parallels in the lives of his subject and himself become more and more evident.

Louise Welsh's strong points of vivid characterization and intricate plotting are at the forefront of this entertaining novel. Four stars.
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VINE VOICEon 15 April 2010
Young academic sets off on research into long dead poet, whom nobody else rates. Doesn't really sound like the basis for a good story.

Thankfully in Louise Welsh we have one of the finest writers of our age who turns this seemingly unpromising material into an intriguing dark tale of mystery and betrayal.

The story does start in a rather mundane way, with our hero Murray Watson setting off on his research about the poet Archie Luhan. However, although the subject does not appear inspiring the writing does draw one in and Welsh's skill lies in planting the idea in the reader's mind,

"There's something not quite right here".

This sense of unease is what makes this tale so intriguing and also makes the story so convincing. Yes there are twists and surprises, but these are like events in real life rather than the contrivances of so much fiction. Like the hero the reader feels as if something is going to happen, but doesn't know exactly what.

This is a masterful tale beautifully told. I find it impossible to fault Louise Welsh at all. The plot is intriguing, the characters are interesting, the writing is just so beautiful and the evocation of place is right on the button.

This is one of the best novels to emerge from Scotland (or anywhere else for that matter) in many years.

Fans of Louise Welsh will enjoy this new treat and it is a great place to start for those who have not yet discovered this great writer.
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on 26 April 2010
Louise Welsh's fourth book does not disappoint.
In Naming the Bones her characters are three dimensional. Even the nastiest of them has some redeeming feature. The locations, particularly, but not only, the rain soaked island where the denouement is set, are so well drawn you feel the rain running down the back of your neck - or is that the hairs standing on end? Dark, edgy writing draws you in to her well crafted plot.
And you know that her erudition that is hinted at with classical and other references is the tip of an iceberg. She's a clever lass.
I am so looking forward to her next book.
What world are you taking us to then, Louise?
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on 1 June 2010
Ever since "The Cutting Room", you can rely on Louise Welsh to produce a good story. The story is built up slowly but steadily and also has all the usual sightings of familiar places in Glasgow and Edinburgh. During the closing sequence it did lose a bit as it tried to tie up absolutely all of the loose ends. Overall top class.
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on 12 March 2010
The previous reviewer has nailed the essence of this story. I also think Welsh has created some good characters especially the female charcters. The form of a quest, the underworld setting of Glasgow and the insular mysteriousness of the island also worked for me. The protagonist - Dr Murray Watson - (why do I keep thinking of Sherlock Holmes?)doesn't have that pyschological edge that Rilke (The Cutting Room)has; but then again isn't it good to leave the reader wanting more? There are some similarites to A.S. Byatt's Possession but also many differences. Those looking for an intellectual read will be disappointed - a good lay in the sun (irony not intended) and forget about life read. I am an admirer of Welsh and I wasn't disappointed. I look forward to the next novel.
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VINE VOICEon 29 June 2011
I enjoyed this book immensely. Not having read any of Louise Welsh's novels before, it has left me wanting more.

The story was slightly slow to get going, but that did not detract me and I was up until the wee hours finishing it. The story moves between Glasgow, Scotland and the isle of Lismore. It was the story on the island which I found the most interesting, with fascinating characters and an intriguing plot.

Well worth a read and I will be searching for more of Ms Welsh's novels.
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Welsh's fourth story is an atmospheric thriller set in Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Scots islands. Dr Murray Watson, an academic in the English Department at Glasgow University, decides to write a book on Glasgow alumnus Archie Lunan, a brilliant wacky young poet who died in a dramatic boating accident (like Shelley). Archie was only 25 when he died, and left one volume of poetry and some sketches for a sci fi novel - though Watson is sure there must be other work hidden somewhere. Despite the lack of support he's given from his Head of Department Fergus Bain, Murray sets out to unravel the mystery of Archie Lunan, and finds himself increasingly tangled in a web of academic skulduggery, lies, guilt and half-truths. Determined to get the truth about Archie from the poet's former girlfriend Christie Graves, Murray ends up on a remote Scottish island, where, on a stormy night, his story reaches its terrifying climax over the grave where Lunan's secrets are buried - or are they?

I read this book on a train journey from Bristol to London, all in one go, and literally couldn't put it down. Welsh's descriptions of the Scottish landscape, from the Victorian splendour of Glasgow University and the grime of Glasgow's backstreets to the windswept muddy beaches of the island where Lunan and his girlfriend once lived are superb, and she has a vivid cast of characters, including the continually puzzled Watson, the odious scheming Fergus and his femme fatale wife Rachel, Watson's jovial alcoholic colleagues, Pete, the jovial Englishman with whom Watson stays on the island, and Christie, Lunan's haunted girlfriend. Few of the characters are easily sympathetic - but you do want to find out more about them. The mystery side of the story was ingenious and well constructed, guaranteed to have you hooked within a couple of chapters. My only criticisms of the novel were the same as those I had for Welsh's fifth novel, 'The Girl on the Stairs' - that the final chapters tipped into melodrama, with too many sudden dramatic deaths, and that Welsh cheated us of ever finding clear answers to the mysteries she'd set up - there were so many things about Lunan that I thought we were going to find out by the end of the novel, and many remained a mystery. It was also a shame we didn't learn more about what Lunan was like as a poet and why Watson was so hooked on his work. The final section of this novel left me feeling curiously unsatisfied, and therefore I wouldn't return to the book again. Still, it's a very ingenious story, and I'd certainly recommend it for train or tube journeys or as a fast-paced holiday read.
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VINE VOICEon 30 April 2011
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.
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Louise Welsh made her name as an author of quality with a Gothic touch when her excellent first novel The Cutting Room was published back in 2002. She followed this with Tamburlaine Must Die in 2005 and The Bullet Trick in 2007, both of which books left her readers hooked on this innovative writer with a distinctive voice. It was with a keen sense of anticipation that I downloaded Naming the Bones to my Kindle and began to read and I am pleased to say I was not disappointed.

Doctor Murray Watson is a professor of English literature at Glasgow University. A single man, rather unfulfilled man in his thirties, he is writing an autobiography of Archie Lunan, a Scottish poet with a small but acclaimed body of work. Archie Lunan died thirty years previously while sailing in a storm off a small island and nobody seemed to be sure whether his death was suicidal or merely an unfortunate sailing accident.

As Watson investigates the life of Lunan he attempts to get as close to the source of his subject as possible. The archive is small. He has a small box of papers, a slim volume of poetry and a couple of contacts with now-elderly people who worked with him. The elderly professor who he interviews seems to be reluctant to tell other than half a story, and when Watson goes on to contact Lunan's now-elderly ex-lover, he is warned off the story with the threat of legal action.

Undeterred, Watson decides to travel to the island of Lismore where Lunan was living before he died. He encounters a bleak and damp landscape, riven by gales and with an inhospitable population. At this point Louise Welsh racks up the drama with shocking revelations set among dark and stormy nights.

Apart from the complex plotting, Naming the Bones contains a great deal of interest in telling Watson's back-story, with his vaguely disreputable friends and contacts, a failing affair, and an insightful perspective on Glasgow's love-life. I would say this is the classic "good read". It held my interest throughout and successfully combines elements of a classic thriller with some fascinating literary detective work.
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In Naming the Bones Louise Welsh has produced an irresistible literary novel that keeps the reader guessing right to the end.

Dr. Murray Watson is researching the life of a minor Scottish poet who committed suicide at a very young age leaving only one slim volume of poems. Watson is hoping to interview people who knew Archie Lunan and thus write a biographical background to the work. However obstacles are constantly put in his way and few people who knew Lunan are willing to talk to him. His life is further complicated by the affair he is having with his Head of Department’s wife and the unhappy relationship his has with his own brother. He is an excellent central character – a man with many inconsistencies and weaknesses but I found self-awareness and humour very attractive.

He travels to the Isle of Lismore with the hope of meeting up with Archie Lunan’s partner despite the fact that she has declared herself unwilling to talk to him. Gradually a whole web of deceit and lies emerge surrounding the life and death of the poet.

It is a terrific read. Although very dark in places – the plot involves blackmail, occultism, alcoholism, voyeurism and obsessive jealousy – Welsh writes with a wry humour. “He saw a sign marked Broch, and took the right turn its arrow instructed, into a stony road less finished than the last. It felt good to have a destination, even though he wasn’t sure what a broch was.”
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