Home > Book Reviews > Book Review – These Demented Lands by Alan Warner

Book Review – These Demented Lands by Alan Warner

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I hadn’t heard of Scottish writer Alan Warner, much less read one of his books, and to make matters worse, These Demented Lands is apparently a sequel to a book called Molvern Callar. With a title like that though, I had to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

These Demented Lands is a strange kind of hybrid between something approximating realistic fiction, some kind of lite-apocalyptic fare, and there’s a fair bit of drug culture thrown in for good measure. There’s more than a few references to modern British bands too. The opening sees our nameless protagonist (her name is the ‘Molvern Callar’ of the first book) washing up on an island off Scotland with a young girl in tow. I can’t really be bothered trying to explain how this bizarre slipstream fiction works, but suffice to say it reads like what I might imagine someone on drugs to experience. (Notice I didn’t say ‘write’ – the prose is excellent, though difficult in places.) The book’s title is an accurate one, as what we basically have here is a rural Scottish setting seen through ‘weird’ goggles. That’s These Demented Lands in a nutshell.

Characters have outlandish names like The Aircrash Investigator, The Argonaut, and the chief antagonist, John Brotherhood. Brotherhood runs some kind of run down hotel (The Drome Hotel) for newlyweds, and our protagonist wants to go there for some reason. Here’s an area where These Demented Lands isn’t so flash: in terms of plot and character motivation. Okay, maybe these things seem passe to some, but I still expect them to exist in prose fiction. What plot this novel has is fairly weak, and characters seem to do things simply because it’d be cool. Okay. That was my main reservation about Warner’s novel, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it.

The book is split into several sections, and the narration is split between Molvern Callar and The Aircrash Investigator. There are a lot of flyers and various other miscellania scattered through the book too, just to break things up (and, presumably, to look cool – there’s a fair bit of looking cool in this book). There’s also a fair bit of bad feeling between the Investigator and Brotherhood, and it turns out that neither are really who they claim to be. The Aircrash Investigator is looking into a crash that killed a couple of people on the island ten years ago. He’s also after a propellor (later he is forced to carry it on his back, much like Jesus Christ). Trying to explain the plot really does me no good here. There’s a memorable scene in which hot chilli con carne is thrown around everywhere. I think what I am trying to say here is that These Demented Lands is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, that it doesn’t really add up to anything.

But what amazing parts this book has! I liked one passages so much that I thought I’d quote it here:

“Gibbon had been delighted to find an economical way to get a lick of something waterproof to douse the boards. He’d been too mean to buy paint: when the biscuit bakery at Far Places had gone bust, Gibbon had taken away gallons of raspberry food-colouring from the auction. To his amazement, the stuff was completely waterproof; the lower sections of the outhouse were soon crucially pink: raspberry pink. As a paint it proved strudy enough but the outhouse’s downfall came when Gibbon’s cattle strayed from the fields into the yard and began licking the walls. Not only did they remove all the colouring up to five feet round the structure, the constant licking and pushing of the cattle wrecked sections of the walls and Gibbon had to fence off the outhouse to keep it from destruction.” (p 94-5)

The book was worth me reading for that passage alone, which had me laughing out loud. That doesn’t happen very often. This book manages to be literary, challenging, humorous and engaging. But ultimately, like a drug experience, it’s ephemeral. I’ll be looking out for other books by Alan Warner all the same.

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  1. Hannah
    July 13, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    MoRvern Callar! Not Molven. Great book, my favourite of his. The plot for this relies on you remembering the end of Morvern Callar – she’s spent all her money in Spain, she’s pregnant, and she’s heard there’s jobs going on the island. Hence her journey.

    SPOILER:

    You’d need to read ‘The Man Who Walks’ to find confirmation of what I only suspected on my first two reads of this book – Morvern dies on page 1! She drowned in the sea and the rest of the book is a crazy, luminous dance (pilgrimage?) through purgatory …

  2. guysalvidge
    April 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Morvern, got it. Only took me a year or so to reply to this post. I’ve read Morvern Callar now and I had mixed feelings about it in general. Ditto The Man Who Walks. Ditto Warner in general.

  3. Jilly
    October 24, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Ive read Morvern Callar, Man Who Walks and These Demented Lands many times, and I dont believe Morvern dies in “Demented”. Remeber, you are hearing of her supposed drowning from her foster father (whom she disowned and hadnt seen or been in pleasant contact with since Morvern). She hated him, and apparently he had worn thin of her. Also, much gossip occurs in such areas, and I believe he may have made an assumption of her death, and the fact that she dissappeared from the slipway after she swam ashore added fuel to her death rumor. I believe shes still around.

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