The Deadman's Pedal Hardcover – 31 May 2012
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Warner's new novel, The Deadman's Pedal, amply fulfills his talent.an exceptionally fine novel by any standards. Warner's language is deliriously vivid. The Deadman's Pedal is morally sensitive, exquisitely written and emotionally mature. It could not be mistaken for a book by any other author: Warner has triumphantly come into his own (Stuart Kelly Guardian)
He's never written better. The Deadman's Pedal is a novel that will last. This is the best Scottish fiction since Lanark (Brian Morton Scottish Review of Books)
Filled with rich predicament, where parallel lives collide in a creative undoing of the status quo... Anyone who reads it must be grateful that The Deadman's Pedal is the first of a trilogy, and hope that Warner writes quickly (Sheena Joughin Sunday Telegraph)
Compelling.the patterns of Warner's grand design emerge, as mesmerising as the highland scenery he describes with such sublime intensity (Peter Carty Independent)
The prose achieves rhythms and textures of ecstatic beauty, the images are often mesmerising (the descriptions of Simon's oddly peaceful train journeys within the "endarkened cell" of the driver's cab are especially good), the dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the characterisation is vigorous throughout. The Deadman's Pedal is a lovely novel, and a return to form on the part of one of Scotland's most brilliant writers (Edmund Gordon Sunday Times)
A bildungsroman, a demented comedy, a wild romantic fling - The Deadman's Pedal is another thrillingly imagined adventure from the inimitable Alan Warner.See all Product description
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Finishing this novel leaves something inside you, something generous and transforming. Warner has brought into existence his own world. Simon is his latest character, bright, alive, sensitive but far more grounded in the everyday than some of the early, wilder novels like The Man Who Walks or These Demented Lands. Warner sets the novel in the 70s but as always there is something timeless and immovable about the worlds he describes - something mythical and profound. The novel follows about a year in Simon's life, like life itself, you are not aware of Simon changing but slowly life is doing its work on him - the delicate confusions of young, unsure love are captured here as Simon gets pulled in to liasons with two - even three young women - but he is not just some shallow lothario - just a young bloke wrong footed and surprised by life around him. The novel contains unforgetable moments, from huge dazzling set pieces to delicate little descriptions. There is no point recounting the plot. Just read the book.
Simon finds first love and sex with 'little ray of golden sun' Nikki Caine, escaping together on his 50cc Yamaha motorbike, 'wenching' where they can, be it dark lanes or the back green behind her council house, outside the tiny bedroom she shares with her older sister Karen.
Simon is not sure what he wants from his life, but it isn't the life his father - who left school without qualifications - has planned for him. Idly wandering into the Labour Exchange one day he ends up applying for what he thinks is a job at the hospital where Karen is a nurse, but turns out to be a trainee railwayman working with the new diesel engines in direct competition with his father. Despite his best efforts he gets the job and is pitched into a world of older men, men with bodies shattered by decades of hard manual work, hands immune to pain from endless hours shovelling coal as firemen for the steam trains they served on.
The Deadman's Pedal is in some ways a coming of age novel, we witness Simon grow as learns to handle the engines and haul passengers and goods from the Port blindly over the moors to link with the Glasgow trains, to drink heavy with the railwaymen and fend off rampant socialist Red Hannan's imprecations to join the cause. He meets Alexander, English boarding school educated scion of the great house at Broken Moan high above the port, his restless sister Varie and their ex army officer class father, Commander of the Pass, Andrew Bultitude. Alexander introduces Simon to the addictions of foreign literature and vinyl music, Varie to lust after a girl moving into the world of university beyond the Port and smoking dope.
But this book is much more that a simple bildungsroman. What shines, as ever with Warner, is his precise detail and dialogue. The evocation of provincial Scottish life in the early 1970s is utterly compelling and meticulous, from the characterisation of war-raised conservative parents versus their more sexually liberated but still emotionally conservative children, to the particulars such as ownership of colour tv to mark out the more affluent families. Warner's exquisite passages of Simon and the other railwaymen on the trains could in less able hands have easily been pedantic, but are here infused with the freshness of Simon experiencing it for the first time, a gone world of mechanical manual railways, signalmen and paraffin lanterns. Warner metonymically uses touches such as cigarettes smoked: the old railwaymen smoke roll ups, Simon and his friends Embassys, perhaps symbolic of wartime frugality versus 70s convenience, or a move from the values of hand work and craft to consumerism. Warner's writers craft is there in the difference in the feel of Nikki and Varie's hair, the way that one when riding pillion lays her head on Simon's back turning from the road ahead while the other looks over his shoulder to see it, in bare feet with red nail varnished toe nails, in the colour of a pair of eyes. It is in the fact that the date roundel at Tulloch Villa, built in 1881, has never been engraved.
Warner also uses his usual darkly humourous flair for gifting names and nicknames: John Penalty is paying the price for a life on the railways, hips crumbling; Shoutin' Darroch rarely speaks; and English educated Varie bears the only obviously Scottish name among the younger generation, but her name is an Anglicized phoenetic translation of the Gaelic name Mhairi so English people will not have trouble pronouncing it. Gaelic is a language in which word sound and visual appearance have at best a passing acquaintance and Varie's parents' insidious act of exchanging a language accessible only through local knowledge for transparency and obviousness appears symbolic of her obvious poor little rich girl version of wild child and her lack of mystery and opacity.
And always behind everything is the landscape and its ability to alter people: the desolate lands above the Port that Simon travels through on train and motorbike; the den he and friend Galbraith construct high above the Port; the hydroelectric dam loch Andrew Bultitude commissioned which drowned a village and his mother's home; and the streams that cut through the hills which bring about the dramatic events that end the novel as Simon takes a good train over the moors with and increasingly ailing Penalty.
This is the book Warner has been speaking of for years, and it was worth the wait.
I have read all of Alan Warner's books and was anticipating this as a treat.The sections of work related nicknames and camaraderie are as accurate and entertaining as any I've read.This is the way people talk! 'Deadman's pedal' hinges on an inability to press it.That's life.
One of the previous reviews focussed on 'contrasts'.In amongst the tale and it's enthralling portrayals of what may well be Oban and an incisive rememberance of the early 1970's I would add these;
the contrast between the NUR and ASLEF,Jaguars and a remarkably resilient 50cc motorbike, the ridiculously exaggerated spins on 'flooding' and 'submerging' of real and hardly believable buildings and flesh( back to 'these demented lands'),the two sisters innocent and worldly,the job interviews of two lads again innocent and worldly, the brother and sister(Withnail revisited in Alex........ nailed),a record collection including a Pink Floyd release involving the need to switch countries yet also Stackridge, class and the military reverberating in the two father's roles,swinging out on the rope on the big rock and then uncoupling the train, even at the end of the book the contrast between two types of council flat.True that.
Finally I was overwhelmed by two very powerful lasting images.
The scene of 'digging out the medals' was a flight of imagination that I am still reeling from, the father's final word is 'Clown'.
Most of all a final few pages that genuinely left you feeling 'what next'.15/16 years old! I can almost imagine the screen going dark and leaving the cinema buzzing. Cliffhanger. A completely convincing book. Thank you.
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