Saturday, 16 February 2008

Sans the "M."

The Steep Approach to Garbadale is Iain Banks' latest non-"M." novel, and another title of his to prominently feature games (c.f. The Player of Games and Complicity).

The novel follows its central protagonist, Alban McGill, from self-imposed exile in a squalid flat in Perth, back into the fold of his extended and wealthy family, the Wopulds. The family owes its wealth to a game, Empire!, created by an ancestor at the height of the British Empire. Times have changed however, and now an American corporation wishes to buys the Wopuld family out. As a nominal shareholder, but a noted family firebrand, Alban is being brought back to galvanise the family to retain ownership.

However, as the novel unfolds it becomes clear that three women in Alban's life are exerting a strong pull over him. Foremost is Sophie, his first cousin and first love. A torrid teenage affair, broken up by the family, still haunts Alban. Then there is his mother, a victim of suicide when he was still a child. Family whispers suggest there is more to this story than Alban is aware of. Finally there is Verushka, a mathematician, and his on-again-off-again, part-time lover. Constantly drawn to one another, they seem unable to commit fully to each other.

After initial scene-setting involving the Wopuld family, resolving Alban's relations to these three women becomes the dominant strand of the novel. And Banks does a good job at keeping them ticking over during the novel such that resolution for all of them only occurs at its end. There's what appears to be a bit of a twist going on there, but Banks lets perhaps too much out of the bag along the way. Most of the family revelations at the end didn't come as a surprise to this reader at least.

Overall, an engaging Iain Banks tale. Not up with his best fiction, but an improvement over his previous two titles, The Business and Dead Air. For better or for worse, however, Banks' best work still seems to be his science fiction. Of which, more in the near-future - Amazon delivered his latest there, Matter, earlier this week.


quaintance said...

If you were to draw a continuum of quality between "The Business" and "Crow Road", where would this novel fall?

Plumbago said...

Better than The Business but not as good as The Crow Road. I thought the The Business had a great premise that Banks just threw away as the novel progressed. The Steep Approach to Garbadale manages to hold itself together better, although Banks gives a little too much away before the big reveal later on. Then again, that might just be me getting wise to literary twists and turns, and trying to outguess the novelist.