Multitudes of people!Walking up the hills!

THESE DEMENTED LANDS by Alan Warner Cape pounds 15.99

Alan Warner's first novel, Morvern Callar (1995) was, as the blurb says, "a critical triumph". It was compared to L'Etranger and The Great Gatsby. The author himself - a Scottish lad from Argyll in the West Highlands, born in 1964 - was held to be "defining the 1990s" in the way that Jay McInerney had "defined the 1980s" before. You'll be expecting me to say that all of this was hypey nonsense, but here's a surprise for you: I believe it, every word. Apart from the bit about Jay McInerney. I never did see what that guy was meant to be about.

You don't get books like Morvern Callar often: first sightings of new sorts of people in literature, familiar enough from the streets perhaps, but not before seen on the page. And you don't often get this sort of social sharpness in a book so elegantly put together, it feels like you have the wind in your back as you read. Readers especially love a narrator they can have a romance with, a Holden Caulfield or a Lorelei Lee. Morvern was wide-eyed and gorgeous, a good-looking working-class girl who liked her raving, yet was also, simultaneously and completely unaffectedly, "an angel fallen to this earth". Her language, with its "offofs" and its "travelling in countries", was accurately Scottish, accurately chemical- generation 1990s, and profoundly poetic as well.

At the end of Morvern Callar, Warner left us with his heroine stumbling back exhausted to her old stamping-grounds from Ibiza, "the child of the raves" in her tum. His second novel sort of picks up where the last novel finished, with Morvern rising semi-miraculously from the sea. The world she is returned to, however, is out of joint with the tight-knit, hard- bitten village in the Scottish Highlands she once left. It's an island, ruled by a hotel called The Drome, itself ruled by a former arms dealer called Brotherhood. An Aircrash Investigator, meanwhile, is gathering wreckage, for reasons best known to himself. His name seems to be "Walnut or Warmer, though ... when I pressed him he says his name was Houlihan". Warner, you see, does like to do that cherchez-the-author thing.

Morvern meets others as she labours across the island. Travellers and drifters, mostly, with names like present-day DJs - Cormorant, Devil's Advocate, Knifegrinder - which might also be the names of emblematic figures from romance. The ambiguity is of course intentional. "Multitudes of people! Walking up the hills!" as an epigraph from Black Grape has it: is it a rave, a war, a refugee movement? Is it the 1990s, the 1700s, the Dark Ages, as seen by Welsh, or Stevenson, or Tolkien? When you're surrounded by the hills of Scotland, you are of course standing in one of the most economically depressed regions of Europe. And yet, the wildly romantic intimations of ancient time you feel as you stand there are very much part of that reality as well.

Warner's second novel is a classic like his first one. One of the most exciting things about Morvern Callar was the way you could feel all sorts of other stories folded up very small inside it - more obvious allegories, more studenty experiments, more standard-issue Scottish-ruralist tales. Well, in These Demented Lands, a fair bit of this early draft-work remains unfolded, bound straight into the spine of the book. The various male figures in particular repeat each other awkwardly. One or two of them should have been cut and stuck on to the side of someone else.

And disappointingly, Morvern's voice starts breaking its old decorum, without ever really finding a newer one to fit. "I had a conversation about post-modernism!" she exclaims toward the end of the novel, in a strange, obscurely vengeful, Letter To Her Father. "I actually said the ridiculous word ..." It's not so much the p-word that's the problem; it's the theatricality of the gesture. Oor Morvy would never ponce around like that. It's a boys' pose, of course; it's a boy's letter, really, written by "Walnut, or Warmer", or whatever his name might be. It makes for an interestingly minatory stretch of writing, but one which, so unmediated, does not belong in the place it has been put.

And yet, These Demented Lands is none the less worth reading. The prose is glorious, like poems. The images are powerful, and the artistic ambition is genuinely awe-inspiring, although it doesn't quite come off. Read Morvern Callar first if you haven't already done so, and you'll understand why a first novel like that one would be so difficult to follow. Read These Demented Lands second, and you'll see how much more Warner has waiting up his sleeve. No one, let us face it, will care about Warner's second novel come the next millennium, when this astonishing writer has fully come into his own: which leaves Warner now with ahead of him only - only! - the problem of finding his developing vision a new and properly fitting shape.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?