Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Stars In The Bright Sky by Alan Warner

Alan Warner is one of my favourite authors. I love art that makes you look at the mundane everyday details of life and fall in love with them, books and films which take the stranger than fiction, messy, hilarious life that we all know and hand it back to us as a beautiful, precious gift.

The Stars In The Bright Sky is a sequel to Warner's third novel The Sopranos which followed a group of schoolgirls from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on their choir's daytrip to Edinburgh from 'the port', a small town in the West Coast of Scotland which is based on Oban where the author grew up.

The book takes up with the girls about four years after the events of The Sopranos as the group prepare to go on a last minute holiday together. Kay and Finn have gone to university, flatmates Chell and Kylah are working jobs in the port and Manda has given birth to two year old  'turnip with an earing' Sean. The sixth character from the Sopranos, Orla, has died and Finn's London flatmate, Ava, has joined the girls on their jaunt.

'Life is what happens when you're making plans' sums up the plot of this book. For various reasons, the girls do not just hop onto a plane booked on Kay's laptop the night before and instead spend time in various hotels, bars and Heathrow airport talking, laughing, fighting and figuring each other out. Warner's first heroine, Movern Callar, despises people wishing their lives away and lives very firmly in the moment and this insistence that it is the present that counts runs through this novel like a neon thread.

Even the girls' entrance of the interior of an airport is made to feel like an expedition to a magical world.

"Above them was the cathedral height of roof cables and the realisation that most of the volume was just circulating air space - its own atmosphere - above the unseen, dust-filthy roofs of airline counters and shops."

Manda is the chief proponent of the joys of intemperence with her determination to have fun wherever she is and a lovely way of instantly forgetting slights and wrongs from other people towards herself if they lead to laughter and a good time. When posh, sophisticated Ava finally tires of Manda's constant jibes, innuendo and thoughtless, braying behaviour and shoves her over, Manda slides arse over tit down a muddy slope and ends up in a heap at the bottom, control knickers clearly displayed. When she sees that the other girls are laughing, she laughs too and she holds no grudge.

"Well I didn't mean for you to slide away in the mud", 
"Aye I know, but I was dead brilliant wasn't I?"

Manda is one of the three girls who has been left behind in the port by friends who have gone to university to study Philosophy and Architecture. Although the group of six is ostensibly divided in this manner, no group is elevated above the other. The port girls sometimes seem a little crass and naive but at others times they are earthy and wise (even Manda). The uni girls can seem a little precious on occasion but at the same time they are down to earth girls at heart who care deeply for their friends.

Equally, no one girl is the heroine of the book. Manda gets the most attention but can be an absolute monster and the others all have fully rounded, real personalities. The deepness of the girls' friendships are clear but very lightly dealt with. The book is a perfect balance of lairy, comedic debauchery and pure love for the world around us. The prosaic everydayness of life buts up against intense personal feeling.

" Now a series of yellow-and-black signs in light boxes, illuminated from within and suspended at roof level from vertical, chrome bars, gave orientation; the young women obediently lifted their chins, to obey the information upon these signs, as -apart from Ava- they had once lifted their faces together to the bright stained glass of their school chapel where a turquoise-and-rose light would fall upon their foreheads.

Caution. You are approaching a moving walkway."


  1. How did Warner completely escape my notice until now? Must correct that.

  2. I don't know how well known he is internationally but if you can get hold of his books I would certainly recommend them all wholeheartedly.

  3. As soon as I get to Morvern, I'll have to check this one as well!