I’ve been making a point to read more Scottish authors in the last couple of years but hadn’t yet gotten to Iain Banks. He’s been on my mind since he sadly passed away last year from cancer. I knew him as a science fiction author, but it turns out he has many mainstream fiction books as well. He publishes his mainstream fiction as Iain Banks and his science fiction as Iain M. Banks, so it makes his bibliography easy to navigate.
This is his fist novel, a novel as Iain Banks, and it was a fantastic debut. The story’s narrator, Frank, is a 16-year-old boy growing up on a small island with his father. It’s an island connected to the nearby town by bridge, but it gives Frank an isolated area to call his own. His day is made up of small shamanic rituals and island patrols with homemade weapons. The novel begins with Frank and his father learning that Frank’s brother has escaped from a psychiatric hospital, and we essentially spend the rest of the novel learning how messed up this family is.
A death is always exciting, always makes you realise how alive you are, how vulnerable but so-far-lucky; but the death of somebody close gives you a good excuse to go a bit crazy for a while and do things that would otherwise be inexcusable. What delight to behave really badly and still get loads of sympathy!
I was worried at first that this would mainly be about the shock factor, as a few reviews I had seen mentioned, and that just isn’t something that typically keeps me reading, but this was a lot more than that. I was entertained from the very beginning. What I hadn’t realized was how hilarious this novel would be. Frank is so polite and matter-of-fact that the gruesome acts he describes just cracked me up. That audiobook narrator reminded me of a chipper Alan Cumming, and he fit this absolutely perfectly.
There is some controversial content in this, animal abuse and the detailed murder of children for example, but it somehow never feels too dark. At least, to me it didn’t. Iain Banks makes you care about these terrible people, doing these terrible things, and that’s quite the feat.
Sometimes I wish I had a cat. All I’ve ever had was a head, and that the seagulls took.
I’m very excited to read more from him. And even though he unfortunately passed away relatively young, he was a prolific writer with dozens of published novels, so I’ll still be busy for a while.