Alan Warner,
These Demented Lands
(Anchor, 1998)

Let me warn you right from the start: These Demented Lands is no fantasy novel, at least, not in the typical sense of the word. Rather, Alan Warner's second novel (a sequel of sorts to his highly praised first novel Morvern Callar) is a manic, eerie and sometimes hilarious foray into the postmodern literary landscape. However, Warner's characters possess an archetypal quality that lends a dark, post-apocalyptic fantasy feel to the novel.

Narrated by Morvern, the book opens with a sinking ship off the coast of an unnamed island. Morvern swims to shore, hauling a small girl with her. Once the girl is safely home, Morvern begins the long, strange trip across the island. Rumors about the other passengers on the ship and newcomers to the island (like Morvern herself) circle the island like hungry seagulls. News soon reaches Morvern of a mysterious man known only as the Aircrash Investigator, who ransacks the island's makeshift fences and sheds for crash debris. Morvern's involvement with the investigator at the Drome Hotel, a honeymoon hotspot on the other side of the island, brings the novel to a fiery end.

Warner's novel has one of the strangest cast of characters I've ever encountered: a DJ determined to throw the biggest rave the island has ever seen, a cigar-smoking fat man who assesses candidates for sainthood, Brotherhood (owner of the Drome Hotel) and a myriad of other minor, though just as interesting, characters.

Told with Morvern's unflinching frankness, the prose is difficult to understand at times, especially for those of you who prefer novels written in clear, flowing style. Warner's prose follows no such conventions; the language itself reflects the absurd strangeness of the characters that roam These Demented Lands. Though I claimed that the novel isn't "typical" fantasy, there is a surreal parallel drawn between Warner's story and certain Christian myths. While the book is dark (think David Lynch here), Warner's gift for quirky dialogue had me laughing out loud (OK, more like David Lynch meets Tom Robbins).

I highly recommend These Demented Lands. The writing is unique and strong, the story is highly engaging, and the characters are as complex as those found in any epic fantasy. Personally, I'm going out to find a copy of Morvern Callar now.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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