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Alan Warner: Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar, the heroine of this novel, comes home to find that her boyfriend has killed himself, rather bloodily. She does what any self-respecting 21 year old Scottish supermarket employee would do – she cuts up the body and disposes of it, takes his money and sells his novel (under her name, of course) to a publisher. Yup, this is more gritty Scottish angst’n’roll, with a healthy dose of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll (though both Morvern’s good taste and her interest seem more focussed on the last rather than the first two). Morvern is in a no-hope job, a relationship going nowhere and stuck in a dead-end Scottish town where the only fun is at the local club, Mantrap. So she goes off to Costa del SexnDrugs, with her best friend, Lanna (with whom she falls out just before they leave) for pretty much the same of what she had in Scotland, though with more sun and different guys. Only towards the end, does she really break away (when she steals her late boyfriend’s inheritance of £44,000) and goes off for a long period (of which we learn almost nothing).

The blurb on the back of my copy says Using the voice of a young female narrator, Alan Warner’s novel shifts the focus away from the male-dominated urban realism of much contemporary fiction…. I don’t think so. Though the narrator is female, it reads very much to me like a male voice and not a female one. If you want to hear a female Scottish voice, read Janice Galloway and A L Kennedy or one of the younger generation like Bridget Penney, Ali Smith or Laura Hird. Despite the female narrator, this is still very much your Scottish bleak-despair-and-gloom, beloved of the late 20th century Scottish (primarily male) writers. Nevertheless, Warner does a good job of showing the essential Weltschmerz of this time and place and Morvern herself, her lack of emotion at her boyfriend’s death, makes for a late 20th century key character.

Publishing history

First published 1995 by Jonathan Cape