Following TV's adaptation of The Crow Road, a fully matured IAIN BANKS is back with a new novel that takes him full circle in an impressive career. Words: Thom Dibdin
THOSE LOOKING FOR crude violence in lain Banks's latest novel A Song OfStom' are going to feel snubbed. The king ol‘ glistening viscera has matured.
Not that death does not tread its dread march across the pages. nor that unusual and strange sexual practices are missing. but this is a work with poise. A work which. once you have got over the shock that it is not going to revel in violence. will leave you stunned with its depth.
l'nlike the File-based author‘s recent novels Whit and the highly acclaimed The Crow Road — successfully adapted for television — A Sng Oj'Smne is not set in modern Scotland. The book. to be launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival. is the story ol‘ the 'death ol~ Abel. the alool‘. privileged and erudite laird of a nameless castle in a nameless land. trapped by a meaningless conﬂict.
Although it bears all the hallmarks ol~ Banks at his best. A $ng ()mene sits between his straight novels and the science fiction he writes as Iain M. Banks. The book‘s setting could be anywhere in any galaxy. The names. the technology and the geography are genenc.
What is lel’t is the desecration and break- down ol' the novel‘s two central characters — Abel and the castle itsell' — described in dense. wordy prose which mirrors Abel‘s state of mind. Although the war in the former Yugoslavia springs to mind while reading the book. Banks‘s original idea goes back to the l()7()s and a long narrative poem he wrote while at Stirling University.
‘I started writing poetry alter reading The Waste Land by TS. Eliot.‘ remembers Banks over a cappuccino. ‘This was the first longish poem I wrote and it was a reply to The Waste Land in a sense. I was trying to do some of the things that I knew poetry was capable ol‘. but doing them on my own terms.
‘With the original poem I was using the element of symbolism to say “here. l can do it il~ I want to“. Having done it. I didn't feel l had to prove it again. But having made the
’It struck me that the narrator would use his language in the way that John Peel once described as "flexing his '0' levels in
y0Ul’ face".' Iain Banks
decision to do my own novelisation. I decided to stick with it because it was quite fun as an intellectual exercise.‘
Each of Banks‘s characters has an element associated with them which also reﬂects the manner of their brutal death — no matter how intellectually creative Banks is being. he is still the same person who created The ll’asp I'iactory.
Such a device makes for added entertain- ment. but it is the language which delights and
inl'uriates. raising the book above the level of
simply a good read. At its most impenetrable it can cause you to linger over a single page for minutes trying to work out Banks‘s precise meaning.
‘l‘m sorry about that.‘ he hall apologises with a laugh. ‘The trivial reason was being honest to the original poem. but the real reason was that I had a very clear idea l‘rom the start what the narrator was going to be
‘lle is proud ol‘ his education. his level ol
articulatencss. It struck me that he would use his language in the way that John Peel once described as “l'lexing his ‘0‘ levels in your lace“. He would use language almost as a weapon to say how sophisticated and educated
Iain Banks: his latest novel was 25 years in the making
he is. it was also meant to indicate his l‘airly rel'ined state. l think he is the sort of person who has got a slight contempt for anyone having too detailed a knowledge ol’ anything. apart from language.‘
A Sng ()fSrmzv is a well—matured work time—wise —- Banks has mused over it for 25 years — but it is also his most mature. He is dil‘l‘ident about his own role in writing it. saying that the novel belongs to Abel. just as the castle does. The clever writing. tricks ol~ language and dcl’t descriptions of the most heinous and sordid events are no longer thrust in your l‘ace. but used to rellect on the nature of dispassionate violence.
Iain Banks (Book Festival) Post Office Theatre, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, Sat 9 Aug, 5pm. £6 (£5) and Fri 22 Aug, 1.45pm, £3 (£2.50).
A Song Of Stone is published by Abacus at £16.99.
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