Alan Warner (1995) Morvern Callar

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In my smug way I thought I’d read  Morvern Caller before and been unimpressed. I vaguely remembered a film of Alan Warner’s book starring Ewan McGregor. I was reading an interview director Lynne Ramsay gave to The Observer. I had another look at the book and realised I hadn’t read it, there was no film with Ewan or any other McGregor and I loved it’s in your face style. It’s the kind of people I know. Quite simply, Morvern Caller talks like us.

She doesn’t say no, she says ‘nut’. And the opening it a cracker.

‘He’d cut his throat with a knife…’

‘He was bare and dead face down on the scullery lino with blood round. The Christmas tree lights were on then off. You could change the speed those ones flashed at…’

‘I started greeting on account of all those presents under our tree and Him dead. Useless little presents always made me sad.’

She’s not sad because her boyfriend has killed himself. Later we get the backstory. He was twenty-one, she was sixteen, but working in the local store since thirteen for a few extra bob. He bought her the biggest box of chocolates. We don’t find out his name. He’s left an unpublished novel and tells Morvern to send it away so he can be someone in the afterlife. Morvern is a smart girl, He’s got his own place and bit of cash. She sends it away but puts her own name on it as the novice novelist. It’s accepted and Morvern is to get an advance on the book. A more pressing matter for Morvern is what to do with the body. She doesn’t do anything. Steps around at and goes to work in the superstore, one of the few employers in the small Scottish town that’s not seasonal.

‘For the sake of something to do I tided away all the presents for Him, Red Hanna, Vanessa the Depresser and Lanna.’

Here’s the main characters. Listen to their names. It tells you everything you need to know. Red Hanna is Morvern’s stepdad and her girlfriend is Vanessa the Depresser. You don’t need to say who is she?  Her name tells you. Lanna is the one that Morvern is closest to, physically and emotionally. They’re about the same age, work in the superstore and after work go to dance together at The Mantrap, which is, you’ve guessed,  a local dive. All the guys fancy Morvern because she’s beautiful, like an angel, but Lanna isn’t bad either, although both plot their lives around working out how bad they can be and how far they can stretch their bodies in the little hole in which they live.   They get absolutely blitzed when the can and make the most of their life. But Morvern doesn’t tell Lanna about Him. She was going to, but never. Nut. She chops up his body and hides it on the surrounding hills.

There’s a cleave in Morvern and Lanna’s friendship. She’s also got a secret, but it’s just a wee thing compared to Morvern’s secret.

Studded throughout the book is track-listings compilation tapes of music that Morvern uses to pick her up and help her like booze does to get through the day and live a life. Morvern’s twenty-one and wants something from life, she’s just not sure what. I guess you could call it a coming of age novel, but who gives a fuck? It’s a brilliant first time book. All I can say is well done you.



2 thoughts on “Alan Warner (1995) Morvern Callar

  1. Read it when I was the same age as Morven and Lanna and it’ll always be special because of that. The right book finds you at the right time.
    Have you read the Sopranos by the same writer? Also amazing: group of girls trying to find that little bit of freedom.


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