Top critical review
A Mixed Bag
on 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.