GILBERT Johnson, an Edinburgh man, is in British Columbia, or “New Caledonia” as he prefers to call it. He is a history-loving bookseller researching the story of his father and of his possible grandfather, James Lyle, who once lived in the region, but learns instead that what we think we own isn’t “ours” at all; that one man’s “story” is actually another woman’s “(his)tory”; and that origins aren’t necessarily as obscure as postmodernism would have us believe.

That last point might have suggested a more conservative view of history. Postmodernism teaches that history is malleable, sources are muddy, “truth” doesn’t exist. Jamieson’s excellent novel doesn’t necessarily eschew that theory; rather, it gives it a twist, saying, “we can trace history more easily than that. It just might not turn out to be what you expect”.

Gil’s possible grandfather Lyle emigrated from Scotland in the 19th century as a young man and set up home in a part of rural “New Caledonia” once known as Cloud Falls. Gil believes he left behind a young woman in Scotland who had a child — the child that might have been Gil’s father. Lyle then married a native woman from the region and had children with her, before she died. He also collected the songs and stories of the native people he had lived among, writing them down in the way that Hamish Henderson once collected the songs and stories of travelling people (although without the help of recording equipment).

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Gil finds a region mired in Scottish names and the descendants of Scots, from the woman who runs a café for bikers called Valhalla, to Macdonald Street and news anchormen called MacAllister. His father, like so many of these Scotsmen, also mirrored Lyle’s journey, emigrating from Scotland to the same spot in Canada, before returning home to marry Gil’s mother.

It’s a father-son story told over and over of course, and reflected in the authority God gave Adam to name the animals and the world around him: “Jericho. Tsumtsahmuls. Macdonald. The right to name, the language of power, the dominant narrative. That much was the same in old Caledonia, in new Caledonia, as the early settled country was called before Queen Victoria decided that, as the French already had a New Caledonia, British Columbia it should be.”

A woman’s right to name only happens when she’s a queen. But Gil’s “dominant” narrative is regularly interrupted by the narrative of the woman he met on the plane, the Sigourney Weaver lookalike whose name, we eventually discover, is Veronika. In his journal of his “search”, Gil calls her Martina. He assumes the right to rename with ease; Veronika prickles at this when she illicitly reads his journal while he is out. As Gil investigates the area, looking for information about Lyle, his search for his father fades into the background, to be replaced by the words of women: the leader of the First Nation tribe, or her god-daughter Deanna, for example, who both tell him that Lyle could only record the stories he did thanks to the native woman he married, Antko. It is these women who tell him, just as Antko once told Lyle, so that for all the muddying of historical waters something solid emerges: an understanding of how histories get stolen, how identities are hidden or merged. How extinction happens.

In the hands of another writer, this search might have veered too much on the side of whimsy, or become ponderous and rather turgid. But Jamieson has a livelier, stronger stride than this; he locates and identifies the problem of power, but he’s also capable of having fun with it. Hence the locals being convinced Martina/Veronika is visiting for a film role, that Gil or Bert, as he calls himself in his own narrative, is her script writer. Identities are confused time and again, and Martina/Veronika finds she cannot convince the locals of the truth.

Another part of Gil’s journey is to verify a possible first edition of Burns’s poems. The man who “owns” them is considering selling the edition to pay for house repairs. Gil the bookseller has spent his life not questioning the issue of ownership, the right to “own” another’s words, or to tell another’s story. But his journey has become all about that. Jamieson is never tricksy for tricksiness’ sake, but neither does he make it easy for his reader. He creates a suitably rocky road instead; it is up to us to trip, or leap, or even dance along it.

MacCloud Falls: A Novel by Robert Alan Jamieson is published by Luath press, priced £14.99