I would like to begin by presenting a quote that appears on the inside flap of this novel.
“Dr. Murray Watson is a disenchanted academic whose research is going nowhere, a lover of poetry and a failure in love, a drinker with a problematic personal life. The object of his study is Archie Lunan, a young poet, the brightest of his generations, whose death thirty years prior is shrouded in mystery.” (from inside flap).
This particular description did not have me chomping at the bit to read this book. I read several reviews because I really wanted to want to read this book but so many of them pointed out that his book would really appeal to academic types who would find the conflicts and politics very familiar. Not me again (I barely got through my undergraduate degree maybe 35 years ago but I was never cut out for higher academics.) I have friends and even a brother who is a lecturing PhD. so I am aware of the “publish or perish” pressure but I was still not convinced that I wanted to read this book. In the end it was the mystery surrounding the death of the poet that intrigued me enough to read this book. I sincerely think it peaked my interest because it sounds so similar to the mystery surrounding a famous Canadian painter named Tom Thomson. I will explain more about Tom Thomson near the end of this post.
I will admit that this novel really picked up for me when Dr. Watson made the trip to the Scottish Island of Lismore (a real Island) in an attempt to unravel the puzzle of Lunan’s death. I found it much more interesting at this point and in the end I felt it was a satisfying read.
Tom Thomson; I am Canadian and I am familiar with the story of Tom Thomson (August 1877-July 8, 1917)but it is almost impossible for me to gauge how well-known his story is outside of Canada. But here goes….Tom Thomson was a painter who was renowned for his nature studies in oils. He was heavily influenced by a group of painters who would become know as “The Group of Seven” but he was never a member since he died before the group was officially formed. In 2009 a Thomson painting sold for 2.75 million cd dollars making Thomson one of that vast group of painters whose real financial success came after his death. He spent most of his last years living in a cabin in Algonquin park where he painted year round. I should explain at this point that Algonquin park is a huge provincial park; over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometers of streams, it is about 1/4 the size of Belgium. One day Tom went fishing but he didn’t come back. His body was found eight days later with fishing line wrapped around his ankles. The official cause of death was accidental drowning. But since his death almost 100 years ago there have been no shortage of researchers and journalists who have vowed to discover “the truth’ . And so, depending on what you chose to read or believe, Tom’s death was a murder, a suicide or an accident and there may or may not have been a pregnant young lady involved. Also his body may or may not have been moved from its original grave. Still a mystery
I am afraid that I have written more about Tom Thomson then I have about the book but hey I did warn you that the book made me think of Tom Thomson.