It is to my great shame that I have to admit that I have not previously read any Iain Banks. Not even any of his science fiction written under the cunning pseudonym of Iain M. Banks. And not even after I met him at an author event in Newcastle and joined him (along with a crowd of fellow gin-swilling booksellers) for a very decent curry. And not even after I commented on the fact that he (unlike the booksellers) stuck to lassi rather than gin and he replied – with a perfectly straight face – that it was delicious and that he’d never had a day’s thrush in his life! I am a disgrace to the name of bookselling…..My only defence is the fact that there always seem to be so many books (and so little time).
Anyway, I have now broken my Iain Banks duck by reading The Quarry, the novel he finished just before his death in 2013 and I suspect I will be reading more of his work in the future. A man who can write a book about a man with terminal cancer, while having been diagnosed with the same condition, and yet make it a warm, funny novel (with a heavy dose of black humour, vitriol and olympic-class swearing) is a genius who will be much missed.
The story centres around Kit who lives with his terminally ill father, Guy, in a ramshackle old house in the North-East of England. Kit seems to be a young man with more than his fair share of problems – his father’s illness, not knowing who his mother is, money worries and the fact that he appears to be somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum – but he is also kind of charming in a rather gauche way. On the other hand Guy is, understandably, embittered by his life and he takes it out both Kit and the group of friends he invites to his home for a debauched weekend. The plot revolves loosely around a search for a videotape which the group of friends fear could ruin their reputations but the story seems to be more concerned with the characters involved. The dialogue is very realistic, even if the situation is something out of the everyday, and the individual characters are well-drawn.
If you enjoy intelligent fiction about interesting people then this could be the book for you. But I don’t know why I’m telling you this – I’m the one who was daft enough not to have read any Iain Banks before now…