Tag Archives: Iain Banks

Six Degrees of Separation – From The Road to Northanger Abbey

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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This month we’re starting with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road which has become something of a dystopian classic, following a man and his young son as they walk through a post-apocalyptic America. Personally, I’m hoping that the corona virus will put the kybosh on dystopian fiction.

You could say that Richard Yates Revolutionary Road depicts a suburban dystopia which young marrieds Frank and April think they can escape, a plan that ends in betrayal.

The late and sadly missed Iain Banks’ The Crow Road is an old favourite of mine. Part thriller, part family saga, part coming-of-age story, it follows Prentice McHoan who’s determined to get to the bottom of what happened to his Uncle Rory many years before.

‘Away the crow road’ is a Scottish expression for death, according to Banks’ novel, which brings to mind Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice about a man’s obsession with a beautiful boy against the backdrop of a cholera-stricken Venice.

Donna Leon’s Acqua Alta is just one of a long series of novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti based in the city of Venice where Leon has lived for many years.

It seems that fictional detectives are often associated with beautiful cities. Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective is set in my home town of Bath as are most of his novels featuring Superintendent Peter Diamond.

Bath is also the setting for Jane Austen’s satire on gothic fiction, Northanger Abbey. There’s an apartment complex I sometimes pass whose name pays tribute to her novel.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from dystopian America to my home town by way of Scotland and Venice. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

The Quarry

Cover imageIt has been a sad and rather unsettling experience reading The Quarry. Anyone with even the most fleeting interest in the book world knows that Iain Banks died from cancer in early June, a mere few months after being diagnosed, and those who have read the reviews of his final novel know that one of its main characters has terminal cancer. The strangest thing is that when Banks began the novel he had no idea of his own condition but we readers know from page one.

Narrated by eighteen-year-old Kit, described as “socially disabled on a spectrum that stretches from ‘highly gifted’ at one end to ‘nutter’ at the other”, the novel is set over a single weekend when six old friends visit Kit’s father, Guy, ostensibly to say goodbye but most of them wanting to get their hands on an old video tape from their Film and Media studies days. All deny it is a sex tape in a methinks they doth protest too much kind of way but it’s clearly incriminating. Guy strings them along until the contents of the tape are finally revealed. No one comes out of it very well: Rob and Ali, slaves to the corporate machine, are bitterly competitive beneath their lovey dovey exterior; Pris is desperate for everyone’s unlikely approval of her tabloid-reading partner; Hol’s social conscience is not so pristine as she’d like it to be; Haze is in a drug induced time warp and Paul is a corporate lawyer. Over it all presides Guy – bitter and self pitying – the antithesis of Banks himself whose interview with the BBC shortly before his death showed him to be quietly accepting. There are plenty of Banks trademarks – black humour, political tirades and nice little digs at institutions like the Daily Mail – all wrapped up in a neat story but it lacks the brilliance of some of his previous novels. Kit’s personality works nicely as a foil for the others’ self indulgent posturing but descriptions of his obsessive compulsiveness are a little too detailed. Somewhat sentimentally, I wanted this to be my favourite Banks novel but that will remain The Crow Road which I’ve happily reread several times and I’m sure will read again. How many other contemporary novels can you say that about?