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