A couple of weeks ago I wandered into Shakespeare & Co. my english bookshop in Vienna, intent for something to rectify my empty reading pile. I went to the counter and said, “Do you have—” looking down and seeing there the exact thing I was hoping for, “that?” I finished, pointing at Iain Banks final work. “Why yes, how many would you like?” “Just the one would be brilliant.” and just as with my latest read, off I peddled to Café Prückel to sit outside and read.
I thought I might leave this one until back in Berlin, the subject matter along with Banks’ death I suspected would put me in a foul mood. Nonetheless, the urge to read overcame that wariness, and I pelted through The Quarry in my usual few days (usual meaning I was being trying for slow).
A week or so before, I’d picked up The Wasp Factory, almost the last of his I don’t have on my shelves, and the one I haven’t read in years. There was a sharp similarity between the two, a teenage boy living with his father in a house where changes were immanent. Of course that’s where much of the similarity ends. The rest has more in common with the worlds of Stonemouth, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, or perhaps Whit, especially in the writing which is definitely in the recent style rather than in those works from the ’90s.
I’d love to say this is a sublime ending to three decades of writing, but it isn’t. It’s one of my least favourite, and to be honest his non-M. Banks work since Garbadale pales next to his recent sci-fi works. Surface Detail, The Hydrogen Sonata, Transition (yes, non-M but not really) are all seriously accomplished works by someone who knows what they’re doing. The Quarry on the other hand is like the more egregious rants from Complicity without any of their necessity, meeting the awkwardness of Dead Air. It feels rushed, which it may have been given Banks’ discovering he himself was being dealt with from within exactly as Kit’s father during the late stages of writing. It also feels very much like not a last book, not the one you’d write if you knew all your plans for other novels were about to come to nothing.