In the great author’s posthumous novel, fans of Iain Banks will recognise the bleak surroundings of The Crow Road and perhaps the misfit protagonist who appears to mirror Banks’ best known novel. Kit, like Frank of The Wasp Factory before him, struggles with the social order of things; he concentrates and counts the steps of his daily garden walks, he bites back his condescending remarks, he has an intricately complicated, particularly precise, way of making tea. Like Frank, Kit appears to be a tortured individual, caring for his father Guy who is slowly dying from terminal cancer. With the illness, Banks poignantly illustrates the mind and body entrapped in its ominously fatal constraints. “That’s the thing about cancer; it’s all yours — it’s entirely, perfectly personalised…in that sense a fatal cancer is a kind of unwilled suicide.”
A cruel parallel cannot help but be drawn between the character Guy and Banks himself, who unknowingly began the novel before his own cancer diagnosis. Yet Banks addresses the inevitably of death with the truly brutish voice of humanity, which refuses to be silenced by illness. “It always has to be a brave fucking battle, doesn’t it? You’re never allowed to have a cowardly battle or just a resigned one; that’d be letting the fucking side down, that would.” Guy’s ferocious rants on the futility of life unnerve his old university friends, whom he met while attending Bewford University two decades earlier. They have returned to their old digs, to visit Guy one last time. They find a mysterious VHS tape which apparently contains some very embarrassing footage that has the power to damage careers. With the arrival of Guy’s old friends, Kit learns of old memories; past grievances soon surface. They dig through the disordered possessions and vacant rooms, while the house shakes around them, reacting to the blasting after-shocks of next door’s quarry; a continual reminder of creeping, calculated destruction of rock and element.
As difficult as it is to award a five star rating to a novel, The Quarry quite rightly earns its right as a distinguished hit. Indeed, what could better summarise Banks’ fascination with the organic order of things, of science and fragile mortality, than a life precariously balanced on a willingly-destructive quarry edge?
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