Alan Warner's Morvern Callar
may be the first novel that deserves its own soundtrack. The music Warner's title character listens to as she drifts aimlessly through her sterile life may be the most worthwhile part of this depressing novel. Following in the footsteps of Trainspotting
, another Scottish tale of anomie in the Highlands, Morvern Callar
chronicles Morvern's dead-end existence--a joyless round of sex and raves punctuated by the music playing through her portable stereo.
Warner tells this dreary story from Morvern's point of view in a voice that is flat and affectless, as if the girl's soul had died years before though her body continues to function. Morvern Callar is a strange mix of shocking and banal, a mélange with appeal for a very specialized audience.
Warner, one of the new "Scottish beat" writers like Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting
), forcefully evokes the dreary life in a northern Scotland port town of Morvern Callar, whose name means "quieter silence" in Scottish. The book opens with Morvern's discovery of her boyfriend's body: a suicide on Christmas Eve. She opens her gifts, goes to her despised supermarket job, and pub hops that night. Unexpected reactions are Morvern's trademark and make her story fascinating. Directionless and disgusted at home, she uses money unexpectedly inherited from her boyfriend to return to the Mediterranean rave scene she had discovered on a trip to "Youth Med." In the end, she returns broke and still sullen. This may be the first novel with a soundtrack: Morvern acknowledges the songs she listens to on her Walkman while moving through the actions of the narrative. The sound of her strong voice telling this wild adventure may play through readers' heads long after they have put down this book. Kevin Grandfield