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Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar

4.7 4
by Alan Warner

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Morvern Callar, a low-paid employee in the local supermarket in a desolate and beautiful port town in the west of Scotland, wakes one morning in late December to find her strange boyfriend has committed suicide and is dead on the kitchen floor. Morvern's reaction is both intriguing and immoral. What she does next is even more appalling. Moving across a blurred


Morvern Callar, a low-paid employee in the local supermarket in a desolate and beautiful port town in the west of Scotland, wakes one morning in late December to find her strange boyfriend has committed suicide and is dead on the kitchen floor. Morvern's reaction is both intriguing and immoral. What she does next is even more appalling. Moving across a blurred European landscape-from rural poverty and drunken mayhem of the port to the Mediterranean rave scene-we experience everything from Morvern's stark, unflinching perspective.

Morvern is utterly hypnotizing from her very first sentence to her last. She rarely goes anywhere without the Walkman left behind as a Christmas present by her dead boyfriend, and as she narrates this strange story, she takes care to tell the reader exactly what music she is listening to, giving the stunning effect of a sound track running behind her voice.

In much the same way that Patrick McCabe managed to tell an incredibly rich and haunting story through the eyes of an emotionally disturbed boy in The Butcher Boy, Alan Warner probes the vast internal emptiness of a generation by using the cool, haunting voice of a female narrator lost in the profound anomie of the ecstasy generation. Morvern is a brilliant creation, not so much memorable as utterly unforgettable."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Morvern Callar is a woman who goes to extremes. But then, her life is so appalling that only extreme behavior can help her survive. From the opening scene of her boyfriend's grisly suicide in their tiny depressed Scottish town to her immersion in the wild sensuousness of the European rave scene, Morvern pulls the reader with her as she takes charge of her booze- and drug-driven life. After hiding "His" body (her dead boyfriend remains nameless and capitalized throughout), Morvern takes His money and His novel and escapes. A disastrous Youth Med vacation is followed by a comical night out with her London publishers, a modicum of peace in an unnamed southern land and a nocturnal life of raves and night swimming before she finally comes full circle back to Scotland. It's easy to see why this first novel won its author a Somerset Maugham Award, a nomination for the Whitbread First Novel Award and notice as one of Scotland's new beat writers. Though not written in Scots dialect, the prose captures the cadence and pulse essential to the Scottish voice. Unlike her American 20-something counterparts, Morvern does not whine and endlessly complain, but rather acts, constantly responding to the bizarre turns that life throws her with determined purpose and her own brand of morality. Morvern is a right wild sexy Scottish rave chick tied into the pulse of everything from Zawinul to John McCormack, and Warner endows her with a powerful first-person narrative voice that conveys the sights, sounds (Morvern always tells the reader what's playing on her Walkman or stereo, providing a sort of soundtrack for the novel), tastes and scents of her experience. Film rights to BBC; author tour. (Mar.)
Charles Taylor
[O]f all the new Scottish novelists, Alan Warner seems closest to the anomic nihilism of Irvine Welsh. His first novel, Morvern Callar, opens with a deadpan shocker -- the eponymous heroine finding her boyfriend dead on the kitchen floor after he slits his own throat -- proceeds through Morvern's dead-end job; her anesthetizing binges on booze, dope, music and sex; and moves on to her prowls through the rave clubs of the Mediterranean. Morvern's reaction to the suicide is vintage blank generation amoral: She disposes of the body, plunders her dead boyfriend's bank account and submits his novel to a London publisher after putting her name on it.

But what makes Morvern Callar the best of the new Scottish writing is the inescapable sorrow of Morvern's voice. Warner has written a novel that teeters between coolly shocking hipness and a fuller, more mature sensibility. He nails the hopelessness of working-class life in the port town where Morvern lives without overdoing it or shortchanging the characters. The most touching parts of the book depict her dealings with older people: her girlfriend's gran or her own foster father. If there seems to be no generation gap here, it's because the young recognize their own fate in the wrung-out lives of their elders. The temporary escapes open to them (there's an indelible, hellish sequence detailing Morvern's package holiday to a sub-Club Med resort) only reinforce the awfulness that awaits.

The problem is that Morvern's too full of feeling for the callousness with which she treats her boyfriend's death to be believable. It's easy to see how his death (and his money) gives Morvern a chance to escape (it's a clue that one of her favorite videos is Antonioni's "The Passenger," about a man who tries to make a new start by swapping identities with a dead man). And Warner renders Morvern's no-way-out life so vividly, it's not as if we'd lose sympathy for her if she felt driven by desperation to exploit her loss. But Warner doesn't allow her any uneasiness, and that feels like a concession both to hipness and to all the clichTd editorializing about what the jacket copy calls "the vast internal emptiness" of today's youth. He's created a heroine who's anything but empty, who spends much of her time trying to deaden the feelings crowding her insides. Morvern is engaging, determined to express what she can't quite articulate, and Warner is a compelling storyteller. He's got a chance at being the next big thing. Here's hoping he becomes the next genuine thing. --Salon

Kirkus Reviews
How does a do-it-all party girl become a woman of virtue, the next best thing to the Virgin Mary? The answer, savage yet serene, is this seductive debut from Warner, one of a just-arriving group of new Scottish writers.

The shock of waking one morning before Christmas to find her man dead on the floor proves less stressful for Morvern Callar, a produce-stacker who lives only for music and the next rave, than the inconvenience of having to deal with his body. She goes to work in her seaside Scottish town, then goes to a club, then an all- night party. But when she finally comes home a few days later, he's still there. So she hauls him into the attic and opens the windows for the winter, availing herself of his CDs and bank account and sending his unpublished novel around as he requested, but passing it off as her own. When warm weather arrives, Morvern has to deal with him again; this time she chops him up and goes on a camping trip to dispose of the pieces. Then, craving a change, she abandons work for a Mediterranean resort, where she spends everything, even a publisher's advance for "her" novel. Broke and jobless, she comes home to find her foster dad making out with her best friend—who has already confessed to having gone wild with Morvern's boyfriend the night before he cut his throat. But Morvern also finds a letter informing her that the boyfriend's ample inheritance has been left to her, so she immediately heads back to the blue skies, warm beaches, and the resort rave scene—where in her splendid isolation she has an epiphany. On her next return home a few years later, much is changed, but then so is she.

Morvern is the raw, resilient voice of a generation, and if this not-quite-ironic tale of redemption and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting are any indication, the Scottish Beats are already strong contenders for world-class literary status.

From the Publisher
“Morvern gleams like an onyx from a vivid, macabre and lyrical book…she is impossible to forget.” -- Elizabeth Young, Guardian

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 7.83(h) x 0.67(d)

What People are Saying About This

Stephen Dickson
Spunky, energetic, and irreverent.
Mark Richard
Morvern Callar is a wonder and a danger, not for the faint-hearted; the reader is cut open by a...saw finely sharpened on a stone of nihilism.
Irvine Welsh
Morvern is a brilliant creation, a fearlessly cool and sassy party chic propelled by her own delicious morality...establishes Allan Warner as one of the most talented, original, and interesting voices around.

Meet the Author

Alan Warner is the author of three novels: Morvern Callar, soon to be a film by Lynn Ramsay; These Demented Lands, which won the 1998 Encore Award; and The Sopranos, also soon to be a film.

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Morvern Callar 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Of all the 'new' Scottish novelists, Alan Warner is absolutely the very best. This, his first novel, opens with the title heroine, Morvern Callar finding her boyfriend dead on the kitchen floor after slitting his own throat. Morvern is someone no one would want to be, a member of the Scottish 'working class,' a woman for whom life holds no promise other than sex, music and liquor, and, in time, even those will fade. So, in a life devoid of hope, Morvern does what might seem illogical to someone not caught in her circumstances: she buries her boyfriend's body, cleans out his bank account and even submits his novel to a London publisher under her own name. All this before quitting her own dead-end job and heading down to the Spanish Mediterranean for more sex, music and liquor. That's all. There is no 'hopefully more,' in Morvern Callar's world. Although Morvern may appear callous and amoral she is anything but. Warner, who captures the 'voice' of his protagonists so perfectly (see These Demented Lands and The Sopranos) has captured the very essence of Morvern Callar. There is an inescapable sorrow in Morvern that all of her coolness and hipness cannot hide. This is a real person, one who is gentle and caring with her girlfriend's grandmother and her own foster father. Morvern sees herself reflected in the wrung-out lives of her elders. Her temporary escape to the warmer, more sunny climes of the Mediterranean are a desperate attempt to grab what little escape she can, and, because of this very desperation, these scenes take on a hellish, almost surreal quality. We know, as does Morvern, that whatever release she is feeling at the moment will only magnify the emptiness of her life in the long run. A clue to Morvern's personality is her favorite video: Antonioni's 'The Passenger,' a tale about a man who tries to make a new life by switching identities with a dead man. A master writer, and a master at characterization, Warner never resorts to melodrama in portraying the bleakness of Morvern's life or in her reaction to it. He simply tells it like it is...exactly. And that is part of what makes this novel so perfect. Although Morvern's life is filled with hopelessness and despair, she, herself, is a woman filled with feeling, a true heroine in the finest sense of the word. Even though Morvern tries desperately to deaden the feelings that are killing her, she fails to do so. Obviously, Morvern Callar is a character-driven novel and Morvern, herself, is fascinating enough to carry us along. There really is very little plot in the book to speak of, although Warner does hide some obtuse symbolism here and there. If Morvern, herself, weren't enough to intrigue even the most jaded reader, Warner's writing is so good that it alone makes this book worth reading even if, by some strange chance, you don't like Morvern. Ultimately depressing and without hope, Morvern Callar will no doubt sadly appeal only to a very limited, and very literary, audience, those who read and love Irvine Welsh, for instance. This is too bad, since Warner is a brilliant and polished writer and one whose work deserves a much more widespread readership.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Her boyfriend is lying dead on the floor... and she does nothing. She leaves, looking for fun. And amazing first novel. Powerfull writing. In about twenty years this is gonna be a clssic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kajh More than 1 year ago
This is a debut novel by some Scottish dude (I seem to have a strange affinity for all things Scottish. Could be a previous life...) Anyway, I'd like to recommend it because it truly sucked me in and keep me turning pages and it is so rare to find a book like that. Morvern is such a crazy character. She is this totally independent, self reliant person whose actions are shocking and still somehow understandable. Trouble is the dialog and setting. She's a young, underprivileged Scottish girl who ends up living at the rave scene in the Mediterranean. I had to re-read passages, the etymology continually tripped me up, and the music references went totally over my head but still, I want to recommend it. True, the ending did leave me expecting a bit more from Morvern. All that being said, if anyone has any interest in tackling it, I think it's worth every moment, and it's not a long book overall