Edinburgh Book Festival review: Alan Warner

Alan Warner’s new novel may be a visceral romp, but it’s also underpinned by a clear-eyed Marxist analysis of the mechanisms of class and power, writes Susan Mansfield

Alan Warner PIC: Jayne Wright

Not many writers combine a rock’n’roll novel with a English country house story, but Alan Warner has always pursued his own path. Interviewed yesterday at the Book Festival by V&A Dundee director Leonie Bell, the author of Morvern Callar and The Sopranos revealed some of the twists and turns behind the writing of his new novel, Kitchenly 434.

Wanting to write about rock music but avoid the cliches, he turned his attention to the domestic. By 1979, the year in which his novel is set, music is big business, and rock stars are the new lords of the manor. Thus, millionaire prog-rock guitarist Marko Morrell has bought Kitchenly Mill Race House, a stately pile with Elizabethan/Tudor/Georgian/Arts and Crafts credentials, not to mention a moat.

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But Warner’s eyes in this world are those of Crofton Park, Morrell’s one-time flatmate, now his butler, a creepy, self-important misogynist clinging to the coat tails of his famous friend and unable to grasp that the wind is changing.

Though his novels are visceral romps, Warner says that behind many of them lies a Marxist analysis of the mechanisms of class and power. These things shape the characters we create and the stories we tell, and no one is immune to their effects: just look at how easily we are all seduced by the charms of a fine country house.

Kitchenly 434 is no Brideshead Revisited, no Blandings Castle, (though it might owe a nod of admiration to Kazuo Ishiguro’s repressed butler in The Remains of the Day), but in this “subverted Downton Abbey” Warner has his eye firmly on the mores of society, both in 1979 and today.

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