It's not very clear what The Worms Can Carry Me to Heaven is really about, or why Alan Warner has written it. It's not that it's conspicuously awful or straightforwardly confusing, like some of his other novels. It's clear enough what's happening and where; for the most part, it's gently diverting, sometimes even entertaining. The wider questions, though, remain unanswered. Warner tells the story of Manolo Follana, a fairly unsuccessful playboy, aged 40, who still lives in the small, unnamed southern Spanish seaside resort town of his birth. Twice married, but now single, he has settled into the fastidious, slightly precious routines of a middle-aged bachelor, supported by his lucrative design agency. He has various enthusiasms. Collecting old guidebooks; ruminating a little pompously on his pet theory of 'design flaw': 'Airliners crash. Doorknobs fall off. There is a consistent philosophy to design flaw.' Most of all, he is sustained by the thought of sex, as he explains in determinedly unidiomatic English:
All life is not sex - far from it - but at least the possibility and the hope of romance energises a man like me. Believe us, those hopes make we men swing our legs out of bed on many a morning. Daily we have the slimmest chance of making love to a woman of our city with its summer strip of near nudity stretched along the sand, its crowded discothèques; the brown arms and legs, blue in the luxury shop lights of the street. Previous surprises show all women are vague possibilities, but just like those 52 playing cards inscribed in ballpoint with schoolgirl names from my institute, possibility itself is the thing.
LRB 25 May 2006 | PDF Download