Saturday, November 01, 2008

Discovering a New Writer – “The Crow Road” by Ian Banks

I love to discover a new writer – or, more precisely, a writer previously unknown to me. Ian Banks, a Scottish novelist, has been writing fiction and science fiction for quite some time, but I had not been aware of him. I just finished reading his latest novel, “The Crow Road.” I will now begin to backtrack and read some of his earlier writings. I would characterize his writing style as murder mystery meets comedic sarcasm. He combines some of the best elements of Tom Robbins and Harlan Coben.

Here a some brief tidbits of his delicious use of the English language:

“Beside the thick-necked bulk of the Urvill of Urvill (soberly resplendent in what I assumed was the family’s mourning tartan – blackish purple, blackish green and fairly dark black) sat neither of his two daughters, Diana and Helen – those long-legged visions of money-creamed, honey-skinned, globetrotting loveliness – but instead his niece, the stunning, the fabulous, the golden-haired, vellus-faced, diamond-eyed Verity, upwardly nubile scionette of the house of Urvill, the jewel beside the jowls; the girl who, for me, had put the lectual in intellectual, and phany in epiphany and the ibid in libidinous!” (Page 14)

The protagonist and narrator, ‘Prentice, describes his Glasgow roommate, Gavin:

“Gavin stuck his head out from under the duvet, giving me cause once more to marvel at the impressive way the lad’s shoulders merged into his head with no apparent narrowing in between (this appeared to be the principal physical benefit bestowed by the game of rugby; the acquisition of an extremely thick neck. Just as the most important thing one could take to the sport was a thick skull, and from it an intact one still in satisfactory two-way communication with one’s spinal cord).

Gav – who probably epitomized thick-skulledness, though admittedly would not be amongst one’s first fifteen when it came to offering proof of heavy traffic within the central nervous system – opened one bleary eye and focused on me with the same accuracy one has grown to expect from security forces aiming baton rounds at protestors’ legs. ‘What’s made you so unbearable this morning?’” (Page 161)

The narrator’s description of his ample Aunt Ilsa is worth sharing:

“’Where are you off to, Aunt Ilsa?’ I asked the lady in question, during our waltz. Aunt Ilsa, even larger than I remembered her, and dressed in something which looked like a cross between a Persian rug and a multi-occupancy poncho – moved with the determined grace of an elephant and a curious stiffness that made the experience a little like dancing with a garden shed.” (Page 360)

The plot of the novel weaves its way through several generations and branches of a wonderfully dysfunctional clan who live among the lochs of the Highlands of Scotland. Death – colloquially known as “The Crow Road – is a motif that recurs every few chapters. Banks’ rich narratives and inventive descriptions are interspersed with dialogue that explores the meaning of life and the after-life – or the lack thereof.

It is almost trite to talk about not being able to put a book down, but this was the case for me as I made my way through the chapters of this novel. If you have not already been familiar with Banks and his work, I encourage you to add him to your list of authors to check out.



No comments: