Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: ‘Morvern Callar’ by Alan Warner

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (2 May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099586118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099586111

‘Morvern Callar’ is one of those books that I wish I had written.  It is written entirely from the point of view of the eponymous protagonist, in the first person and the past tense.  Except, not all of it is strictly in the first person.  Sometimes the narrator refers to herself as “you”.  A sentence which contains two personal pronouns tends to use “I” first, and “you” second, but this is not absolutely consistent.  The narrative mode is therefore unique.

The narrator’s voice is very idiosyncratic, not just in its grammatical person, but in vocabulary and emotional tone. 

The first thing the narrator does is psychopathic.  The emotional reaction is “normal” (whatever that means) but the physical action is insane.  The development of the narrator’s character becomes more and more empathetic after that.  This is a form of literary cheating, but it works brilliantly.

This is so far the only book by Alan Warner I have read.  I can’t decide if this is a book written by an intuitive, untrained writer who had never read the creative writing rulebook, or if it is a calculated attempt to write a conventional novel that is disguised to look unconventional.  The answer to that question probably does not matter, because I finished it in three sittings. 

This book reminded me of ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks.  It takes place in more than one setting, unlike TWF, but, like TWF, each of those settings is deliberately limited, in order for the writer to depict it more vividly. 

It reads like a piece of life-writing.  This happened, and then that, and then this other thing.  Some of the things that are raised in the story are not resolved, in a manner which seems almost careless.  But the voice of the narrator is so convincing and engaging that this doesn’t matter. 

This is a book which is irritating and satisfying in equal measure.


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