Archive for Iain Banks

the wasp factory (book review)

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , on August 25, 2013 by xi'an

Following Ian Banks’ death two months ago, I decided to buy his first published novel, The Wasp Factory. After reading it, I feel sorry for not having read this book earlier, like when it appeared in 1984!, as I definitely consider The Wasp Factory a masterpiece, a standalone novel that establishes Ian Banks’s stand as a great writer (and which understandably launched Banks’ carrier).

“I killed little Esmerelda because I felt I owed it to myself and to the world in general. I had, after all, accounted for two male children and thus done womankind something of a statistical favour.” 

The book tells a story that stands at the boundary of the fantastic, centred on Frank, a character that lives in a boy’s dream of weapons and secret ceremonies and auguries, alone with his dysfunctional father. It is actually never clear how much of the story is imaginary (imagined by Frank) and how much is real, from the murders of three siblings (!) to the attack of the giant rabbit to the role of the father. While Frank is apparently in his late teens, going to the pub and getting drunk, his mind seems stuck at a pre-teen stage as he worries about his catapult and carries around a bag of (animal) skulls for holding rituals and ceremonies. In many respects, The Wasp Factory reminded me of Lord of the Flies, with the same streaks of amoral cruelty and the opening on how children’s minds (could) operate when left to their own device (which is the case in the novel). Not only wasps evoke flies (!), but flies also play a major role in the novel (no more spoiler!). Verging on the Gothic, The Wasp Factory has however an additional humorous touch, from the many devices imagined by Banks to kill characters and animals to the absurd phone conversations with the equally mad brother Eric (who earlier set to burn local dogs…). Given the completely unexpected ending of the book, The Wasp Factory certainly requires a second reading to uncover all the clues that should (could?) have warned me about the conclusion. Brilliant!

Jack Vance

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , on June 12, 2013 by xi'an

In a sad coincidence, Jack Vance (1916-2013) died a few days before Iain Banks. Although I did not read his entire oeuvre, far from it, I do remember most fondly the Lyonesse trilogy, which must be the first fantasy novel I read after The Lord of the Ring… I actually read volumes 1 and 2 in French, before switching to English for the third one. While Vance borrowed a lot to the history and myths of the British and Breton kingdoms, he was a marvellous storyteller, mixing magic with wit battles,  medieval societies with Celtic tribes, with a perfect balance of powers, a delightful lightness in tone, and never with an obvious and predicted ending. Given the strong impact this novel had on my reading tastes, I actually wonder why I never searched for more of his books (maybe because I did not like so much  The Demon Princes…) Another source of summer reads! Thanks, Jack, and fare well on new seas.

Iain (M) Banks

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on June 10, 2013 by xi'an

The Scottish writer Iain Banks—who signed Ian M Banks for his science-fiction works—has passed away this week after a few months fighting cancer. He was considered as one of the greatest Scottish writers alive, although I must confess I only read Iain M Banks’ books, even buying The Algebraist twice, so far (but I will give a try at The Wasp Factory asap!). Here is some quotes from the public announcement he made when he discovered the extend of the problem:

The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for “several months” and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.

As a result, I’ve withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing friends and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us.

In a strange premonitory way, his latest novel The Quarry is about terminal cancer… I think he created enough universes and lives through his dozens of books that he now has just enough eternity to go and explore them.

Ian Banks

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , on November 20, 2011 by xi'an

The day after I got an email from Julien that he could not finish the three Iain Banks´  he had started (just like me!), I came across an interview of the author in the French daily Libération. I read it carefully, being stuck in a plane to Madrid with no option to open my laptop, even on my lap… The funny thing is that the interview itself is close to impossible to understand (even with a passable knowledge of French!), but also that Iain Banks acknowledges that the names he invents for places and objects are taken from an alphabetical list he prepares months in advance. No wonder Julien complained about this aspect! (I must acknowledge, though, that I like my first attempt, The Algebraist.