Volume 93, Issue 45

Thursday, November 18, 1999


Kreviazuk finding a way to get through anything

Roots stays grounded

Granatstein brings history to life

Sopranos hit high note

Sopranos hit high note

The Sopranos
By: Alan Warner

Those who have overheard a conversation they weren't meant to hear may recall the unusual feeling of both impropriety and intrigue. This strange sensation is what draws the reader into Alan Warner's grievously funny third novel, The Sopranos – the story of five wickedly disobedient Scottish-Catholic school girls.

The five sopranos, Fionnula, Orla, Chelle, Manda and Kylah are members of a choir who travel to Edinburgh, Scotland for a singing competition. For the girls, the competition is meaningless, but the trip is a chance to escape from the tedium of life in their small fishing village.

They have one glorious afternoon in the capital city and the trouble they make is only limited by the amount of alcohol they can stomach.

They employ all the typical teenage tricks – disguising booze as lemonade on the bus, substituting their unifroms with skimpy club clothes the moment the nuns are out of sight. They go on an extensive pub-crawl, constantly chatting about sex, clothes and makeup while they wreak havoc on Edinburgh. As they progressively get drunk, the story slides back and forward in time, providing the reader with glimpses of the girls' lives outside the group.

Fionnula is searching for her sexual identity. Kylah hopes her talent as a singer will take her far away from The Port. Orla, diagnosed with cancer, goes to desperate and sometimes horrifying lengths to lose her virginity. Manda longs to be as "city-cool" as her older sister and is privately humiliated by her family's stark poverty. Chelle is haunted by the absence of both her fathers.

Some of the episodes are hilarious, with Warner's use of heavy Scottish dialect and adolescent expression providing a sense of intimacy between the readers and the characters.

The atmosphere is intense and sometimes it seems as though the reader is being told a friend's over-hyped rendition of the day's events, while other times it feels more like eavesdropping.

The wit is sometimes a bit trite and predictable, like the overdone notion of the not-so-innocent Catholic girl and the nicknames given to the nuns. But much of the humour is original and unexpected, such as the message scrawled on the inside of a bathroom stall in magic marker – "Watch out for limbo dancers!"

The Sopranos is a provoking and insightful look at an intimate circle of teenage friends. But, underlying this humorous and raunchy tale is the troubling story of the wasted potential of five women who are simply too young to be confined by either geography or circumstance.

–Carissa Alameida

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Copyright The Gazette 1999