The Ossians are a Scottish band about to tour their country’s far-flung venues. Connor, the frontman, is convinced the trip will show him the “real” Scotland, somewhere between tartan twee and Irvine Welsh. But with a head full of speed and gin, he finds it hard to concentrate on anything other than scoring the next hit.
Connor’s closest relationships are with his bandmates, and when they suffer the effects of his excesses, he finds himself increasingly alone. As his grip on reality weakens, he thinks he is being followed, maybe by an angel. Rather than seek help, he buys a gun. Unsurprisingly, the situation degenerates.
Like most road-trip stories, The Ossians is a personal journey. Readers unfamiliar with Scotland won’t learn much about it: the landscape most vividly rendered is that of Connor’s angst. It is easy to hate a pretentious, self-obsessed speed freak, but Doug Johnstone successfully uses interiority to make Connor likeable despite his flaws. If the supporting cast isn’t exactly rounded, its members aren’t entirely two-dimensional either.
The Ossians is closer to About a Boy than to Trainspotting. Unlike its hero, the book, to its credit, doesn’t take itself seriously. Some holes in the plot and a few forced resolutions aren’t too damaging to the experience, even if the end is rather abrupt.