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3.8 out of 5 stars
These Demented Lands
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 February 2016
These Demented Lands is a bit of a mixed bag.

We meet an unnamed woman, swimming from some wreck, landing up on an unnamed shore that is probably somewhere in Argyllshire. The land is populated by weird eccentrics who seem to have no connection with the wider world, just sitting there being weird in this closed community. Our narrator hears that there is a hotel and decides to set off on a perilous journey across the dangerous land to reach the hotel.

As the novel progresses, we reach the hotel which attracts honeymoon couples who fly in to the nearby airstrip. It seems there was an accident at the airstrip some years previously and a man has come to investigate - he is especially transfixed by the missing propellor.

This all sort of goes nowhere. By the end, we know more about the air crash investigator and we learn the identity of the woman who was washed up on the shore. But neither resolution seems quite satisfactory, It's all just a bit too trippy and never quite joins up. Plus, the change of narration at various points of the book, and ending in a long letter feels a little bit choppy. But on the other hand, the portrayal of the landscape and atmosphere of remotest Argyll is pretty spot on and some of the imagery is striking.

I haven't read all of Alan Warner's novels, but loved Morvern Callar and connected with his later works. It's the ones in the middle that I haven't read and, judging by the ones I have read this represents a bit of a blind alley. John Banville went through a phase of novels set in closed communities of mad people. Or maybe it's Iain Banks's The Bridge it reminds me of. Either way, this feels a little imitative.
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on 10 January 2014
I much enjoyed Alan Warner's first novel Morvern Callan so when the same character appeared in this I was excited. However the story is poorly told, the other characters are scabrous and the central character Morvern Callan not as appealing.
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on 26 June 2017
Would buy again
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on 15 January 2011
I think I liked this better than Morven Caller, the book it follows. I found it quite allegorical in places, the man with the propeller strapped to his back like a cross, the birth at the end..... The imagery is rich, and I think a lot of writers would not get away with it, it is very odd in places. But Warner carries it off in a beautifully hallucinogenic way.
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on 6 January 2010
While "These Demented Lands" may dress up as oblique, it is fairly pale stuff compared to any number of early surrealist works ("Nadja", "Magnetic Fields", "The Lost Steps", "The Communicating Vessels", etc.) and more coherent than -- at moments -- the charming tyranny of the Belle Époque's "Le Chant de Maldoror". Point being that, though the term "surreal" comes up too often in describing this work, it is not by definition surrealist literature. As for contemporary examples, well, Philip K. Dick comes to mind, but his work is typically more clear in purpose.

So, only guessing here, but the book's conception seems to seek to address some consequence of the actions without consequence that drew such a luminous outline around the ethical blank vividly portrayed in and by "Morvern Callar". As such, it seems an interesting exercise to this reader, shading the impressions of what went before in a different context. Due to its fantastic nature however, these trials usually seem less portentous than the ultimate non-events occurring in the assumed "real world" of the former book and its still curious model railway component. But there seem to be many flaws, least of which might be holding off on identifying the main character until the very end -- short of a few obvious tells -- which strikes me as needlessly manipulative and, worst case, cliché -- a cheap trick. And the greatest of which might be the profound change in voice that occurs about half way through "These Demented Lands". Stripped of the stylistic colouring of Morvern's original first-person narrative, Warner's prose seems to go flat, becoming less distinct, less compelling and far more like many things other than. Still, credit to the author for a valid and brave experiment in avoiding the formulaic trap of many and other writers.
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on 25 February 2008
I first discovered this book in a bargain bin in Melbourne, Australia.
I really liked the cover and was intrigued. Since then I've read it 5 times. It did take a few reads to work it all out but i loved the poetic prose and the wicked sense of humour. I aint a perfect book, thank goodness but wonderfully imagined and doesn't take itself too seriously like some reviewers do ! Thanks Alan for writing this crazy work
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on 27 March 2014
Awesome. Just re-read it after 15 years. I could smell, feel and taste the West coast again. Oban, Lismore, Morvern, the Sound: take your pick of places that resonate and delight the senses through writing that beautifully expresses the man's connection to the land, nature and the environment. Dunno what Alan was on at the time he wrote this but he should bottle it and sell it online (to the Soprano Generation maybe).

The prose is so evocative here you can't help but read it aloud to savour the taste of the words on the tongue. Many have enthused over his poetic prose. I can't comment academically but his creative expression here feels like a youthful exploration of language on the page, experimenting in 2nd album terms after the critically acclaimed debut. Think Communique after the Dire Straits debut (he'd hate me for this comparison probably! OK Al, try Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, following on from Out Of The Silent Planet... -;) ) and you get a gem in the back catalogue, often overlooked, but appreciated and enthused over, quoted and re-quoted, pint after pint, by fans in the nook.

I wish I'd packed this book for my cycle tour 18 months ago, meandering up the coastline, hop scotching back n forth on my pilgrimmage to my own private scattering spot: Shieldaig on the Northern Applecross peninsula. Ah the memories, the weather, the chance encounters with surreal characters in a surreal landscape. A Convict Who Walks being the most memorable: a Co-Op carrier bag full of crisps and irn bru in hand, asking me how far to the next settlement on his way out of Applecross village on the road close to sunset! Where are you heading, I had asked. Oh I'm just walking, he said.
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on 28 May 2006
Having read Morvern Callar I felt the need to read this to see if the questions left unanswered at the end of the first book were duly answered here. The answer is no. This is even weirder and more illogical than Morvern Callar. I don't know anything about the Scottish story-telling tradition and this is possibly why I just didn't get this at all. I found it interesting in patches but there were times when I just didn't have a clue what was going on and had to re-read whole pages.

At the end of the book I had the sense of "what was that all about?"

I certainly fail to see why the book jacket is covered with rave reviews, am I missing something or is this a case of Emperor's New Clothes syndrome?

Very odd. Unless this is the sort of literature that you're really into, I wouldn't bother with it.
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on 9 April 2000
Morvern Callar left me wanting more, but I was dismayed that the narration of These Demented Lands is not assigned exclusively to the heroine who has been called 'laconic', though this doesn't even begin to cover it. An extensive knowledge of Bob Dylan and the Verve is almost a prerequisite, but the book deserves attention. A first reading left me bewildered. The journey through Warner's oddly peopled hinterlands is ultimately fascinating.
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on 12 December 2001
These Demented Lands is obviously intended to shock. To achieve this, strange yet one-dimensional characters are wafted across the narrative. Sadly, plot and character development have been sacrificed en-route leaving an unbelievable literary landscape populated by random acts of cruelty.
The style is a blatant attempt to slip into the Scottish Literature bracket - trendy, affected and ultimately irritating. Possibly most annoying is Morvern Callar's inconsistent narrative voice. The first instalments are written in horribly contrived, working class, urban Scots but the latter are positively urbane. This may be to achieve some literary effect but it simply adds to the slap-dash nature of the book.
This novel tries too hard and fails as a result. It starts nowhere, ends nowhere and the intervening journey is just not worth the effort. If you read only one Scottish book this year, please pick another. The only mercy is the high improbability this book will out-last the rapidly-slowing Trainspotting bandwagon.
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