Iain Banks, 1954-2013. Hail Discordia, The World Grows Dark

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.

The Crow Road, Lennoxtown

‘We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash.’ (Image: geograph)

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3 Responses to “Iain Banks, 1954-2013. Hail Discordia, The World Grows Dark”

  1. twlldunyrpobsais Says:

    I was in college in 92. Keele, just outside of Stoke. I’d gone there as the mouthy/shy (the dichotomy) Valleys boy made good, and in my first term, fallen in with my next door neighbour who proceeded to alienate me from everyone else and then, one starry December 91 night, to hit me across the head and hand with a broken bottle.

    The next term, I was completely disconnected from everyone around me. My only “friend” had gone, and I was scared shitless of social contact. I’d sit in my room, occasionally leaving for lectures, but mainly would spend my time re-reading Grant Morrisson’s “Doom Patrol” series and listening to The Dylans and the Mock Turtles on my boom-box.

    One day in the University bookshop, I saw The Crow Road by Banks. I’d not read any of his stuff by that point, but was aware of him from my brother, who was a fan of The Wasp Factory and Canal Dreams and The Bridge. Intrigued by the name (and it remains a wonderful name, so evocative…you know when you read a novel’s title and think – immediately – “I will like this”? That’s what happened, right there) and the cover, I picked it up and took it back to my room and greedily devoured it.

    And I dunno, something touched me, something about Prentice and his life spoke to the me of then, and helped, somehow, to bring me out of my anti-social dread, my funk of hermitdom, bring me back to the land of the living.

    It remains my favourite book of his, and one of my favourite of all time, warm, humane, generous and funny (Much as I may – as you, Max – disagree with some of his politics, you never got the sense with Iain that those politics didn’t come from a good place, that he wasn’t a good man who maybe made some bad choices, rather than a bad man, a hypocrite, a liar, a fool).

    The same battered copy, 21 years old, sits on my book-shelf, and I re-read it every couple of years, like trying on a pair of comfortable old slippers, easing into them, contentment.

    He’s away the Crow Road now. Bless him, and goodnight, and thanks, many thanks, for the joy he brought me and so many others.

    • maxdunbar Says:

      (Much as I may – as you, Max – disagree with some of his politics, you never got the sense with Iain that those politics didn’t come from a good place, that he wasn’t a good man who maybe made some bad choices, rather than a bad man, a hypocrite, a liar, a fool).

      That’s absolutely right. And thanks for sharing this.

  2. Benazir Says:

    I’m very sad about his death. “The Crow Road” is probably the first book I actually enjoyed reading. I’m dyslexic and for many of my young years reading was simply a chore. I chose to read CR because I had to do write an essay on a book of my choice for school and it was simply there on my mother’s shelf.

    It was hard at first but slowly I found myself caring about the story, the characters and, most importantly, the language. I wasn’t just reading a random book in order to answer a made up question for a test. It was the first time that I was reading a book for myself and not because I needed a good mark in my English class. Iain Banks got me into literature.

    I was sad when I found out he had cancer but what made me sadder still was that he made a public statement (which turned out to be one of his last) soon after trotting out cranky boycott Israel nonsense. I then found out that he refused to sell his books in Israel. I thought this was incredibly mean. Israel isn’t perfect (neither is the UK or US) but its citizens (both Jew and Arab) haven’t done anything so bad as to be denied the same pleasure that I had had. Not to mention that CR is actually quite a good beginner’s guide to Scotland.

    I therefore resolved to write to him and ask him to reconsider his position. Of course I procrastinated and forgot and then remembered again but it was too late.So I would advised people that if they feel strongly about the opinions of a famous person they should write to them right now! There’s no sense in regretting such a thing.

    Thanks for the post Max.

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