Being a prolific reader, I was quite surprised that I hadn’t heard of Alan Warner until now. Particularly as I spent 5 years living in Scotland. This book was a recommendation for me, as I am currently looking to read some strong first person narrative voices for my own writing project.
There is only one word I can think of for this book – astonishing.
Morvern Callar is a 21-year-old girl who works in a supermarket in a remote Scottish highland sea port. She comes home to find her boyfriend has killed himself and is lying dead on the kitchen floor. I know – that would put me off reading most books and when I read the premise I thought – oh no thanks. But DON’T let that put you off. The story is told from Morvern’s perspective. The narrative is steely strong, matter-of-fact and lyrical. I could no better than to steal Hilary Mantel’s description – it is a stylistic dazzler.
The dialogue is a strange mix of Scottish slang and the rural dialect that hails from that area of Scotland. Morvern is uneducated, hedonistic, but also incredibly brave and strong. The two people closest to her are her best friend Lanna and her foster father Red Hanna. As the story unfolds Lanna’s almost obsessive fascination with Morvern wakes her up to the truth that Lanna is not to be trusted. Lanna cannot handle Morvern’s emotional self-sufficiency and the needier she becomes, the more Morvern withdraws.
Morvern’s actions are shocking to the core and yet we understand her need to survive and her search for some level of beauty and meaning in the world. She describes simple pleasures and a large part of the novel is dedicated to the portrayal of whatever music she is currently listening to on her Walkman, which is essential to her mood.
A nostalgic trip back through the 80’s give this book an added dimension and the pleasures enjoyed by Morvern and Lanna, although a bit extreme to most of us, bring back memories of youthful holidays in hot climates, when sunbathing and clubbing all night were happiness itself.
The descriptions of the beauty she sees around her when abroad are in deep contrast to the chaos of her own life. The writing is masterful: “The sun slid up over the mimosas till cloud out at sea started to curl and light fell in masses on the water; the bottom of a cloud bank broke away while a bar of sky was stained pinkish then the purple- like shadows changed into a peach roof above.”
Morvern never states what she is feeling and the narrative is far stronger for it. Instead we come to know how she is coping through her actions and her perceptions of her every growing world.
This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read and it is going straight into my top ten reads. I imagine it may be marmite to some, but if you are looking for something wholly different, exquisitely written and viscerally haunting, then buy it now. A revelation.