Ronald Frame - The Lantern Bearers (1999)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Until five years ago, had you scanned the Scottish Fiction section of any popular bookseller, chances are your eyes wouldn't have alighted on any work by Ronald Frame. Despite having published 13 books as well as groundbreaking plays and screenplays, the Glasgow-based author has never really received the kind of attention accorded to such west coast luminaries as Kelman, Gray or Galloway. One probable reason for this criminal oversight is the fact that Frame's fiction does not conform to any received expectation of what it means to be a Glaswegian author. His characters are mostly middle-class, suburban or rural dwellers; many are not Scottish. Rather, Frame's gift lies in carefully revealing the ugliness that can fester beneath veneers of genteel respectability.
A haunting example of Frame's oeuvre is The Lantern Bearers, which won the Saltire Award. The story takes the form of flashbacks related by jaded, middle-aged writer Neil Pritchard, who has been asked to produce a biography of brilliant dead composer Euan Bone. The assignment leads Neil to recall the summer he spent in and around Slezar's Wark, bohemian retreat to Bone and his possessive companion Douglas Maitland. A boy soprano, Neil played muse to the charismatic composer while he constructed his masterpiece, based on Stevenson's essay, the boy's awe gradually turning to hero-worship. When his voice breaks and he is excommunicated, Neil's obsession with Bone leads him at first to stalk clumsily the composer, later - naively or calculatedly, we are never quite sure - contriving to destroy his relationship and career.
The book's brilliance lies partly in this consistent ambiguity about each of the central characters' motivations, but also in Frame's sensitive, wholly believable depiction of the young boy's homosexual awakening in less friendly times.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.