11 Feb 2012
Review: "The Sopranos" by Alan Warner
This Christmas I spent quite a few hours with old friends. Not the friends I went to school with but friends that I have met in the library, on the pages of Alan Warner's excellent novel "The Sopranos". As some of you may know, I absolutely love this book and I have read it several times and reading it again, under the duvet while on vacation was a real treat!
In a port town somewhere in Scotland a group of teenage girls from the Catholic school Our Lady of Perpetual Succour are preparing to go on a school trip to the big city. They are all in the choir and will be competing in a choir competition with a less than saintly intent to lose so that they can come back to the port town the same evening. Why, you might ask. Because a submarine is coming into harbour and they are hoping the there will be sailors aplenty in the local disco. Yes, these are not your stereotypical Catholic choirgirls. More like girls gone wild.
The sopranos are at the heart of mischief, Finn (the Cooler), Manda, Kylah, Chell and wee Orla are teenagers in a some forgotten corner of a windy country. Poverty, cheap alcohol and teenage pregnancy is the order of the day and education and a future beyond the harbour town is something that they can only dream of. Not that they do - oh no, these girls have way too much fun to worry about things such as the future. They run the school and the Mantrap (the local disco) and spend their time worrying about boys, drinks and Orla's cancer treatment.
As these wild young women go on their trip to the big city, they defy all rules. Their fizzy drinks bottles are filled to the brim with alcohol, they have changes of clothes (mini-skirts, Doc Martens, the works) and make-up in their bags and they are up to no good. The story follows them as they head out on adventures and get to know each other and the stuck-up, prissy and rich Kay Clarke better.
It is a tour de force through the mind of teenage girls who do no worry about boundaries, grades, school or the future. They are at the same time both women and children but their behaviours are fully adult and at times rather.... too adult. As they mix vodka and Happy Meals, school uniforms and piercings, the reader gets a unique peek into that teenage girl world.
When I first read this book, I was the same age as the girls in the book and I have grown up with them, in a sense. It is also one of those books that shaped my interest in literary fiction because this book is not an easy read. Warner's girls speak in Scottish dialect and the first time I read it in original language, I did have to look up a few words to suss out the meaning of the strong dialect. Technically, I find that the strength of the book is in the characters. Each character has a distinct story and a distinct set of values and beliefs. The differences between the girls are the catalysts for interesting tensions that make this novel rise above so many other books. It is an outstanding book, don't deprive yourself of it.
Read it if: You can... the dialect can be a challenge. Otherwise try finding it on audiobook. It is a unique reading/listening experience.
For other reviews of "The Sopranos", try: