The death of the author
Recent Scottish writing comes mostly from the inner city or isolated rural communities. In his first novel, ALAN WARNER tackles the problem facing any young raver from a small town — how to get the hell out.
Ann Donald asks the author just, how much of this crazy adventure is autobiographical. Photograph by Chris Blott.
‘He'd cut his throat with the knife. He 'd near chopped off His hand with the meat cleaver. He con/(1n 't object so [lit (1 Silk Cut.’
he big affable man sitting opposite produces a cassette called Morvern's Dismemberment Music. before sitting back to sup on a pint of Guinness. Referring to the above quote, I ask him why he chose such an arrestingly visceral opening paragraph. He looks up. smiles, then in a faintly tinged Highland accent says: ‘I wanted to kill the male! Right away. I’m dead. Me. The big guy who usually says. “Here’s this girl Morvern and she does this and she does that". I zap myself in the first sentence and that’s me out of the book.’ Alan Warner is explaining the adroit way he disposes of the omniscient narrator of his new novel.
Warner is a 29-year-old. Oban-born. former dry cleaners’ assistant and ex-lbiza Clubber who has been blessed with the frame of a rugby forward and a brain that seems to have absorbed the contents of The Oxford Companion to English and American Litert'iture Vols 1—10. He also happens to have written one of the most original. disturbing and compulsive pieces of fiction in recent years.
His utterly convincing creation is a 21-year—old supermarket shelf-stacker called Morvern Callar whose distinguishing marks are a glittery kneecap and a social life that revolves around getting ‘mortal’ in haunts like The Mantrap. Her drinking buddies are characters with names like Tequila Sheila and The Slab. One morning Morvern wakes to find her odd boyfriend has committed suicide and is lying on the kitchen floor. bequeathing her: a body to dispose of. the manuscript of an unpublished novel. and the PIN number to a small fortune. Her first reaction is to light a Silk Cut. as always with a ‘goldish lighter’. and heat her underwear on the kettle’s steam.
A brief interjection from the author is necessary to fully appreciate the gallows humour that sticks like congealed blood to the whole novel. ‘15 denying someone a Christian burial wrong‘?’ Warner asks. ‘He was in the way . . . It’s sad when people die but bodies are inconvenient.’
Don‘t be fooled into thinking this is the start of a Shallow Grave-style dismemberment party. Beyond the initial carve-up of the cadaver is an even more disturbing portrayal of Morvern’s deceptively phlegmatic physical and spiritual journey. as she swaps drunken seaport mayhem for a tripped-out beach life in the Mediterranean rave scene. This is communicated in a spare linguistic style that hints at the unvoiced maelstrom of emotions bubbling underneath.
Morvern. as Irvine Welsh succinctly sums up one side of her character. is ‘a fearlessly cool party chick propelled by her own delicious morality’. She started life as a male railway worker but after an experimental literary sex- change in Warner’s mind. he discovered the words flowed more smoothly with a female character. This decision coincided with his growing disillusionment with many male authors‘ ‘crass attempts’ at portraying female characters and a desire to redress an imbalance in contemporary Scottish literature. ‘There’s very little about young males.‘ he says draining the Guinness. ‘but even less about young females.’
Although Warner is a vociferous admirer of Scottish authors like Iain Crichton Smith, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh and Duncan McLean. he’s aware that his work has a different perspective. ‘I do feel quite different to other writers,’ he says.
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0 The List 10-23 Feb l995