Many books are enjoyable to read, but pretty much instantly forgettable. The act of reading them may be - and often is - entertaining, but they leave little behind in the way of lasting memories. You can think of them as the literary equivalents of a nice pub lunch. Well made, nice ingredients, and good service, and something you will probably want to repeat. But will you feel compelled to go out and tell people about the experience? Probably not.
"A Book of Death and Fish" by Ian Stephen is a very different sort of book. At one level it a novel is formed from a series of anecdotes, recollections and reflections about the life of one man, Peter MacAulay. Yet at the same time it is a book that is large in scale, sweeping in scope and significant in its impact. As you read this book, you know that others will still be reading it in a decade, or several decades, or longer, and that they will still be finding it compelling, insightful and relevant. It is perhaps premature to talk of such a recently published novel as a classic, but it is difficult to read Ian Stephen's novel without being reminded of the works of Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Neil M. Gunn. Deeply evocative of their settings in terms of place and time, certainly, but of lasting and wider importance.
Much of "A Book of Death and Fish" is set in and around Stornoway, on Lewis, with occasional diversions: for example when Peter MacAulay's moves as a child to Clackmannanshire in central Scotland, where his father has found work. The book is in the form of a large number of short chapters, with each illuminating a particular memory, or incident, or individual. Most seem relatively inconsequential in their own individual right, but as more and more of them come together the effect is rather like a tapestry. Fishing features repeatedly, as does the nautical background of the residents of Lewis, sometimes with deeply tragic results. The picture that emerges is very much greater than the sum of its parts. The result is a truly memorable book, the literary equivalent of Michelin-quality dining, the sort of dining that you will feel compelled to go out and tell people about.