Alan Warner's debut 1995 novel opens with the eponymous heroine discovering that her boyfriend has slit his throat and is lying dead on the kitchen floor. Morvern does not scream or cry; instead she lights a cigarette and opens the Christmas presents he has left for her, setting the tone for this disturbing study of alienated youth.
Morvern is 21 and works in a dead-end job as a supermarket checkout clerk in a small Irish town. She escapes her mundane life with drugs, alcohol, casual sex, and music. She plunders her dead boyfriend's bank account. She submits the novel he left behind to a publisher, replacing his name as author with her own. She uses her illfound gains to take her best friend Lanna on a trip to a youth resort in Spain. She comes across as chillingly amoral, unable to think or plan beyond immediate gratification
There is another, less empty, side to Morvern. She is tender with her girlfriend's granny and her foster father. She loves being alone on the frosty wild mountainside where she goes to dispose of her boyfriend's rotting corpse. There is a depth to Morvern that has nowhere to go; she lacks the motivation to overcome her working class world.
Lynne Ramsay made this thin cult novel into a movie of the same name in 2002, reworking Warner's story somewhat into a stark, stripped down version of the plot. Samantha Morton is brilliant as Morvern, and the stylized cinematography, relying on dark saturated colours and extreme close-ups, conveys an empty moodiness that catches well the tone of the original.
You might love the book and/or the movie - many did - but ultimately they both left me unsatisfied. I saw the movie first, and while I admired Ramsay's and Morton's artistry, I didn't really care about Morvern as a character. I thought the novel might make her more understandable, but was disappointed there in turn. There is no humour as in Shallow Grave, no deep existential questioning as in Camus' The Stranger. (Funny that it's stories about murder that come to mind when I try to come up with comparators.) I found this story as empty as Morvern herself, and myself no better off for having encountered her. Too bad.