When a great writer dies, the world darkens for a moment.
The first Banks novel I read was The Crow Road, his best book and the one that will probably outlive him for longest. As a kid, I used to wander round the Scottish highlands and Prentice McHoan’s tale of unrequited love, requited love, estrangements and secrets had an impact on me that even now is still difficult to put into words. The most enduring scenes in the book are where Prentice’s dad Kenneth, local teacher and aspiring author, takes the McHoan children on rambles through the countryside and tells them stories. In a sense, readers of my generation are McHoan’s children still.
Banks will be read and reread also because of the structural ferocity of his imagination. Both in the ‘mainstream’ (remember, kids, literary is just another genre) and the science fiction novels, he invented processes and concepts of which literally no other contemporary novelist was capable. The names of the Culture spaceships (Youthful Indiscretion, A Series Of Unlikely Explanations, Dramatic Exit, Or, Thank You And Goodnight) are not the half of it.
He was a lover of nature and rugged landscapes, but Banks knew that manmade structures can also be beautiful, and not necessary a stain or pollution on the green world – in fact the opposite, he knew that the things created by humans and what was already there before we came can complement each other, transcend the sum of their parts, and form gorgeous details and vistas.
Okay, his politics were screwy, and his books took a tired and didactic turn towards the end as the real-ale bore side of Banks’s personality made its presence felt over age and time. But then there’s The Bridge, Complicity, The Wasp Factory, Consider Phlebas. How many writers can go to their grave and leave such classics behind?
For all his faults the man had a vision of truth and beauty that was entirely his own. And every time I see a windfarm in the distance, wings tilting on a field of grass, I think of Iain Banks.
Also: Neil Gaiman remembers.
‘We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash.’ (Image: geograph)