No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, June 12, 2008

#27: The Steep Approach to Garbadale -- Iain Banks

I've spent my life waiting for my life to start. It's as though one needs permission from somebody ... to finally take responsibility for one's own actions, one's own life. Only the permission never comes, and gradually you realise that it will never come, that the way you've lived your life, stumbling through it, winging it half the time, is all there really is, all there ever was. I feel cheated because of that. I feel, sometimes, like I've cheated myself.
The Steep Approach to Garbadale is classic Iain no-M Banks, which is a polite way of saying that I recognised recurrent themes in it. Odd relationship with sister-figure? Check. Dark family secrets? Check. Rich bloke pretending / arranging to be poor? Check. Suicide? Check. Drug-fuelled bad behaviour? Check. Games? Check. Peculiar injuries or infirmities? Check.

Nobody gets turned into furniture which is always a plus.

Alban Wopuld, self-exiled from his family -- who've apparently built a fortune and a dynasty on a single product, the boardgame Empire! -- is summoned back to Garbadale (the family's Highland estate) for an Extraordinary General Meeting. The stated purpose of said meeting is to decide whether to sell Empire! to an American company, or not. From Alban's point of view, the agenda's more than a little muddled by the possible attendance of his cousin Sophie, with whom he had a brief but intense fling in their mid-teens; the disapproval of the aged Win, matriarch and iron fist; his own return to the house where his mother killed herself; the unexpected company of his girlfriend, exotic and likeable mathematician Verushka.

It's a novel about growing up in the Eighties, about developing ethics and ideals in a wicked world. About learning to take responsibility, to grow up, to accept one's adult self. About doing the right thing, I suppose.

And it's funny, and poignant, and there are many moments of verbal clarity -- finely-observed tics, the telling details of a landscape, a discarded coat as a ghost -- that make me stop and reread the sentence and nod, yes, that's the way it is. It's not a bad book by any means: it just seems to be revisiting old ground. Perhaps this is an older / wiser / more reflective Banks. I'd need to reread Espedair Street, The Crow Road, maybe even The Wasp Factory to see how differently he's handling those recurrent motifs.

But then I'm older, more reflective, than I was when I read them first.

1 comment:

  1. Belatedly, and five months after I read it, I found the ending deeply unsatisfactory: he needed to bring some sort of closure the the Verushka arc, but this sort of hurried and-it-all-turned-out-to-be-a-dream end didn't work for me. Better to have Alban hearing about an accident in the mountains just after (or before) Blake's thud, and end things there.

    Not perhaps as saleable, though :)

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