Magazine article The Spectator

Slaughtered Budgerigar Territory

Magazine article The Spectator

Slaughtered Budgerigar Territory

Article excerpt

THE MAN WHO WALKS by Alan Warner Cape, L10.99, pp. 282, ISBN 0224062948

When his debut novel Morvern Callar came out in 1995, Alan Warner was rightly hailed as an extraordinary new talent. Literary labels tend to be both misleading and offputting, and there was always something rather patronising about the so-called Scottish literary renaissance - as if Warner, Irvine Welsh et al were the first Scots to write anything decent in years. But Morvern Callar deserved - deserves - every bit of praise going its way. A forthcoming film looks set to keep up the attention.

Perhaps inevitably the author's three subsequent books are just not in the same league. True, they all show plenty of the same deadpan brilliance and verbal invention, the same mundane weirdness and lyrical darkness that turn Warner's Highlands into some fiendish Hell-lands, but none has the originality and integrity of voice of that first novel. Morvern Callar, narrated by the eponymous 21-year-old supermarket worker-turned-impostor who finds her boyfriend's body on the kitchen floor and takes things from there, had many astonishing qualities, not least that the central character was totally convincing. The sequel, These Demented Lands, was playful, fragmented and impenetrable. It felt like something that could have been written on hallucinogenic drugs.

In The Sopranos, Warner returned to a gutsier, more overtly realist mode but his tale of convent girls who travel down to Edinburgh on a singing competition was subject to the law of diminishing returns. Every fleck of vomit and blowjob boast was a little less impressive than the last. The intended poignancy of wasted youth was lost in a wash of various bodily fluids.

So too is the case with The Man Who Walks. It starts promisingly, with an evocative description of `ghost bags' that have rolled mysteriously across the landscape and got snagged on barbed wire fences, `lodged forever: flapping, twittering deep in the night. …

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