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  • Alistair Braidwood

Island Life: A Review of Louise Welsh's Naming the Bones…

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

During a bit of a working holiday (and if you fancy something a bit different, and have a love of the West Coast of Scotland and/or boats, you should check out what’s on offer at I can highly recommend the experience) I managed to finally get round to reading the latest Louise Welsh novel.

Welsh is one of those novelists whose work gets devoured. Once I start it’s hard to stop until I turn the final page. I recently wrote about her debut The Cutting Room (see The Cutting Room…) and was approaching this with high anticipation.

The first thing to note is the cover. Welsh’s previous books had terrifically evocative and dark covers, as in evidence below, that hinted at the Gothic sensibilities that lay within:

As for the novel itself, it’s another enjoyable read but I felt it lacked the characterisation that is to be found in her first three books. I cared less about the central character of Murray Watson than I did about Rilke from The Cutting Room or William Wilson from The Bullet Trick. The action is split between Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Island of Lismore, and Welsh seems more at home in the city than in the rural setting. Few writers lend a sense of menace to Scotland’s cities as well as Welsh manages.

But these are small(ish) considerations. This is still a compelling read and is another example of how literate supposed ‘genre’ fiction can be. There are plenty of literary references and in-jokes, including a central plot device involving a famous writing group which was once based in Glasgow’s West End which is so thinly veiled as to be transparent, making it all the more enjoyable. Welsh also retains her ability to shock and excite. If you haven’t read any Louise Welsh I would start with The Cutting Room, but if you have then you can approach Naming the Bones in the knowledge that you are in safe hands.


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