A lilting, gentle story—last year’s Scottish Book of the Year—of a boy’s sexual awakening into a world of music in 1962, as he falls for the young composer who’s hired him to sing.
When 14-year-old Neil is sent for the summer from Glasgow to his aunt’s house on the Scottish coast, he’s barely begun to understand himself. He stays apart from others in the town, but is drawn to Slezar’s Wark, a grand white house overlooking the sea, even before he learns that Euan Bone, an increasingly prominent Scottish composer, is ensconced there with his cellist friend Douglas. Invited to audition for Bone, Neil jumps at the chance, and his boyish voice is soon serving as daily inspiration for Bone’s new work, The Lantern Bearers. There’s mystery surrounding the friendship between Douglas and Bone, making good gossip for Neil’s aunt and her friends, but Neil discovers that he has a crush on the composer, and so is compelled to find out what he can about the two. As Bone takes him under his wing, swimming in the ocean with him and educating him about music, Neil begins to feel that his own feelings might be reciprocated—and finds he’s the source of increasing friction between Bone and Douglas. But when Neil’s voice cracks, the idyll is over: he’s cast out of the house by Douglas and forbidden to return. Thereafter he shadows Bone everywhere, and is so distraught that he even steals the Lantern Bearers score, believing it’s his work as well. He returns it, but not before its absence has precipitated a split between the men. And when Neil goes home to Glasgow, he makes an even more boneheaded move—one that will cost the life of the man he holds most dear.
Aside from some contrivance in the matter of Bone’s untimely end, this is a tale of great richness and subtlety, equally evocative whether dealing with adolescent turmoil or the small-town ’60s milieu.