News of the Dead by James Robertson

Published: 2021 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Penguin 3. Detail from the Chronicle of Fortingall, a 16th-century manuscript written in Highland Perthshire, Scotland. [Public Domain] via the National Library of Scotland 4. Man bringing a letter to a hermit [Public Domain] via Picryl 5. Stone village [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Original image has been colourised.

This novel has three narratives, all set in a village in the fictional Glen Conach in the highlands of Scotland. It is about a book of legends concerning the Christian hermit Conach, who lived in the Glen in the Middle Ages. The book of legends is investigated for authenticity by an antiquarian in the early 19th Century. In the present-day, an older woman of the village tells her grandson about the legends of Conach that she remembers being told in her childhood.

I really enjoyed everything about the 19th Century strand – theven though the strands were linked, I felt that the story did not gel. The Scotsman has a different opinion: “… it is the ending which links it all into a piece … how the stories coalesce is the engine behind turning the page.” In awarding this book the Walter Scott Prize 2022, the judges commented: “The novel fulfills in abundance the prize’s key criteria of ambition, originality, innovation, enduring appeal and quality of writing and we hope readers will enjoy not just the glen itself with all its ‘dangers and gifts, its capabilities and limitations’, but the cast of characters the author assembles, always with a twinkle in his eye.

“We had had news of the dead, he said, whom we lamented, but we had not had news of the living…”


“To tell the story of a country or a continent is surely a great and complex undertaking; but the story of a quiet, unnoticed place where there are few people, fewer memories and almost no historical records – a place such as Glen Conach – may actually be harder to piece together.”

“There is nothing more full of life as a bird singing.”

“I have read an awful lot of books over the years, and I’m still not done with reading.”

Author: James Robertson

Awards: 2022 Winner Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

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