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The Sopranos
Alan Warner

The Sopranos
Alan Warner
Jonathan Cape

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Meet the real Spice Girls; Orla, Kylah, ‘Chell, ‘Manda and Fionnula (the Cooler) are the stars of The Sopranos, five teenage convent choirgirls on their way to the big city for a singing competition. For these working class girls from a god-forsaken Scottish backwater, the lure of what the capital has to offer is too strong to resist. Let loose in a world of optimum potential, a world that contains Miss Selfridge, French Connection, HMV, and numberless bars and pubs, these five small town girls embark upon an orgy of alcohol, shopping, shoplifting and chaos.

This is a novel for anyone who has ever been a teenage girl. Its accuracy is staggering. Alan Warner has somehow managed to tap into the insanity and hysteria of adolescent femininity and depicts it with vigour and tenderness. Warner understands perfectly that odd mixture of coarseness and coyness that makes up the confessional exchanges of teenage girls. He understands the intense loyalties coupled with swift betrayals, and the sudden disintegration of childhood friendships in an adult world. He observes girlish adolescent sexuality without voyeurism, titillation or even a hint of Nabokovian fascination. The Sopranos scrawl ‘SHAG ME’ and ‘SHAG US’ on the windows of the school coach and whisper, giggle and scream about oral sex, prostitutes and ‘lezzies’, yet their sexuality is undeveloped and fearful, born of experience, but also of misinformation and guesswork. Orla, recovering from cancer, is desperate to lose her virginity, ‘Manda to keep pace with her ‘sophisticated’ hairdresser sister, Kylah wants to sing like ‘the girl from the Cocteau Twins’ and ‘Chell just wants something resembling a quiet life. Fionnula (the Cooler) is the brightest, loudest, crudest, and after her drunken journey of self-discovery, certainly the wisest Soprano. Through these five very ordinary girls, Warner presents a celebration of the lusty enthusiasm and invincible optimism of youth and at the same time a tragic portrayal of the inevitability of loss and wasted potential.

Orla, Kylah, ‘Chell, ‘Manda and Fionnula (the Cooler) are some of the most convincingly drawn and screamingly alive fictional characters that I have ever encountered. Warner’s disjointed, colloquial writing combines Scottish dialect with a kind of universal teenage diction and the result is fluid, exhilarating and charged with energy. The Sopranos is a jumbled mosaic of slangy conversations, lists, doodles, and stunningly descriptive prose which Warner has somehow managed to shape into a compellingly coherent narrative. He is obviously a very talented writer but his major achievement is that somehow, from his position as an adult male, Alan Warner has written the definitive Girl Power novel for the ‘Nineties. What Girl Power is not is the anodyne cavortings of five twenty-somethings in Union Jack swimsuits. Girl Power is The Sopranos binge drinking Alcopops on the schools coach, climbing in through nightclub windows and letting off fireworks indoors. Girl Power is Fionnula (the Cooler) and the triumphant final song of five defiant and hungover Sopranos on the run. This brilliantly funny and poignant book is the most exciting, original, and probably the best new novel I have read this year.

Reviewed by Polly Rance


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