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  1. This is one of the most beautiful, touching, entertaining, poignant, laugh out loud funny novels I have ever read. I wonder if it would be better known if it hadn't come out in the same year with the same title as the drama series about New Jersey mobsters. The story couldn't be more different, for The Sopranos is actually about, well, sopranos. It's a day in the life of a group of girls in the school choir who travel from the West coast of Scotland to Edinburgh for a competition, and then back again. That's it for plot, except that doesn't tell even 1% of the story. You have to train your eyes to 'hear' the Scottish dialect, but once you get beyond that, the dialogue cracks and bristles along. You get to know and really care about these girls, which is made all the more poignant by the fact that you know that theirs futures are far from secure. Has anyone else read any Alan Warner? Morvern Callar is excellent once you get used to the passivity of the narrator (which was something the film failed to overcome), but I couldn't get into either These Demented Lands or The Man Who Walks, which had none of the dialogue that made The Sopranos stand out, and it was hard to care about any of the characters.
  2. review of The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky see the return of the girls from The Sopranos or maybe some of them as I hadn't read that yet (just ordered on Amazon, fingers crossed I did the banner thing right at the top) and now I've read this one twice In this novel, the girls and Finn's friend from Uni Ava are going away on holiday but not sure where yet until they see the special offers the night before. Manda is there with Chell and Kylah who are all still in the same town, Kay is in university in Glasgow studying Architecture and Finn and Finn is down in London to study Philosophy with Ava. Through one thing (Manda losing her passport) they miss their first flight, they get stranded slightly in Gatwick. I don't think the storyline is pivotal of what they get up to there, it's the how that is the important and Warner's use of dialogue and situation to create humour. He does that very well in this novel, reading at lunchtime at work, think others in the office might have thought I went insane (or at least had further evidence of such) This was the second time of reading, I do really like the novel. It is funny * * * * *
  3. These Demented Lands is a bit of a mixed bag. We meet an unnamed woman, swimming from some wreck, landing up on an unnamed shore that is probably somewhere in Argyllshire. The land is populated by weird eccentrics who seem to have no connection with the wider world, just sitting there being weird in this closed community. Our narrator hears that there is a hotel and decides to set off on a perilous journey across the dangerous land to reach the hotel. As the novel progresses, we reach the hotel which attracts honeymoon couples who fly in to the nearby airstrip. It seems there was an accident at the airstrip some years previously and a man has come to investigate - he is especially transfixed by the missing propellor. This all sort of goes nowhere. By the end, we know more about the air crash investigator and we learn the identity of the woman who was washed up on the shore. But neither resolution seems quite satisfactory, It's all just a bit too trippy and never quite joins up. Plus, the change of narration at various points of the book, and ending in a long letter feels a little bit choppy. But on the other hand, the portrayal of the landscape and atmosphere of remotest Argyll is pretty spot on and some of the imagery is striking. I haven't read all of Alan Warner's novels, but loved Morvern Callar and connected with his later works. It's the ones in the middle that I haven't read and, judging by the ones I have read this represents a bit of a blind alley. John Banville went through a phase of novels set in closed communities of mad people. Or maybe it's Iain Banks's The Bridge it reminds me of. Either way, this feels a little imitative. ***00
  4. Alan Warner is an accomplished comic writer, specialising in unlovely characters on the margins of society. In Their Lips Talk Of Mischief, we find Douglas, a homeless young Scot who has just dropped out of an English Literature degree in London and is hiding in hospital Accident and Emergency departments all night, trying to keep warm. There he finds Llewellyn (aka Lou), a Welshman who claims to be a writer whose chest has fallen apart (literally). Anyway, they end up talking and Douglas ends up back at Lou’s flat, sleeping on a camp bed and thinking impure thoughts about Lou’s girlfriend Aoife (Eeef – with a triple E). What emerges is pretty much a carbon copy of Withnail and I, but with the added comic interest of Eeef and her baby daughter Lily. Much alcohol is consumed, grand plans are made for the future – mainly in the pub – and there is a procession of drunken escapades. The general tone of Lou and Douglas’s conversation is pompous, in the way that some students try to display their smidgeon of learning at every opportunity. Eeef is not cut from the same cloth and provides a backdrop of domesticity and ordinariness. Predictably, the novel becomes a comic love triangle. It is grotesque; it is farcical. But underneath the pomposity and predictability, there is an honest portrayal of the false bravado of young men, desperate to succeed in life but paralysed by their terror of failure. There is tenderness buried beneath it all. The setting, in the early 1980s in West London all rings true. It is probably not a coincidence that Warner himself was a student in London at the time. There is a brilliant satire running through it of the exploitation of young writers by unscrupulous publishers, and a good insight into the pub/club/curry lifestyle of the time. It is surprising just how dated Warner makes it feel; the time itself is not ancient history but we feel the regression to the world before the internet, before mobile telephony; we relive the days of cheap, smoke-filled boozers; the strikes and the housing benefit inspectors. So with such a good atmosphere and such cracking dialogue, what doesn’t work? The answer is that it all feels a bit aimless. Just as Lew and Douglas are drifting, so too does the novel – and sadly, so too does the reader’s interest. By halfway, the reader has pretty much got the idea; knows where it is heading and the second half is a bit of a slog. But the first half is well worth a read. ****0
  5. Morvern Callar is revolting. Throughout the entire novel, she doesn't lift a finger to help anyone unless it meets some greater need of her own. She expects other people to fit in with her lifestyle. She begs, steals, lies, fights and sleeps around. She chain-smokes Silk Cuts and gets mortal on diluted vodka. Between binges, she graces customers with her presence in the local supermarket. Yet despite everything, this young, selfish wastrel is strangely beguiling. Morvern is an orphan, named after the Morvern Peninsula, a bleak and unpopulated lump of land overlooking the port of Oban. Her foster father, Red Hanna, is a trade unionist on the railway who likes being a medium sized fish in a small pond. And as small ponds go, Oban is pretty unadventurous. A town famous for its folly and its distillery, the ferries out to the islands, and being the end of the railway line. Morvern and her friends speak a strange, Argyllshire dialect of Scots and the older ones still speak Gaelic. They use this quaint speech to articulate their breathtaking lack of ambition, their lack of understanding or interest in the wider world, and their lack of compassion for one another. Alan Warner grew up in Oban and he convinces completely in his depiction of real life behind the touristy façade. Alan Warner brings in repeated references to dance music - at times Morvern sets out the contents of mix-tapes she has made - and there are scenes at raves and parties. Yet for all this, there is an overwhelming sense of silence about the book. There are conversations but nobody ever says anything meaningful. We follow Morvern's inner monologue at times but it contains very few ideas and the odd occasional spark is quickly doused. Even when Morvern sobers up enough to see that fate has dealt her double aces, she focuses only on immediate gratification rather than strategic, long-term planning. It's hard to watch someone make so many, and such obvious, mistakes. Despite her unloveliness, the reader wants Morvern to make a right choice somewhere - the reader carries the torch of hope that Morvern is unable to hold for herself. At times, the novel is tricky to follow. Scenes shift with little warning; time passes unnoticed. It does all make sense, though, and the discontinuities are all made clear within a few pages. And the Scots dialect does take some getting attuned to. But once in the swing of things, the reader can see that this is a beautiful, subtle book that defies expectations. It's also a surprisingly funny book, with laugh out loud mentions of the Kale Onion, Creeping Jesus, the driving examiner and bloke-swapping on the plane to Spain. The ending sits oddly with the rest of the book - injecting a dose of the serious into proceedings. I wish I could say it is a hopeful ending, but mostly it is just very bleak. *****
  6. The Deadman's Pedal by Alan Warner Set in 1970's, 15 year old Simon Crimmons is finished school for the Summer holidays. He has a new girlfriend, his first, and is longing to get a job and a motorbike. With his father running a haulage company, this would seem an opportunity for a job. However his father is adamant that he should stay in school and when he is 18, he can come work for him. Much to his father and mother's dismay, Simon eventually near the summers end, gets a job as a trainee train driver (his father's main competitors for carrying stock). From Simon's considerably wealthy background, his girlfriend Nikki is from the nearest town's estate so her family is somewhat poorer. While out with friends and his wee brother (coming from a country where wee is also, along with Scotland, used as a term meaning small, I'm used to using the word. My own county's nickname is The Wee County), he becomes enchanted with Varie Bultitude. The daughter of the aristocratic landowner ( In relation to this, the first chapter of the book is to do with the Queen's visit to the Bultitude's house back in the 1960's and the preparations). After a chance encounter in a book shop in town with Varie's brother, Alexander, he becomes friends with her and her brother. This is why I brought up the class difference between Simon and Nikki because this is another contrasting class difference. The dialogue between the different character's is very good, particularly with Simon's new colleagues at the train station and enjoyable with some good comic touches. I found the central theme to be With independence comes responsibility. I don't think the ending was wholely conclusive to the storyline but I might be blinded with Warner's previous book "The Stars in the Bright Sky" where he revisited the characters from "The Sopranos" so there could be that expectation of a follow on to this in 10 years time. For me, Warner has furthered his reputation as an excellent writer with this book. *****
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