I think I’ve read all the Ian M. Banks SFF novels, but I’ve got a pile of mainstream Iain Banks still to read. Much as I’ve enjoyed Banks’ writing, I’ve had mixed feelings about the straight novels I tried, such as Walking on Glass, despite its SFF elements. This story, much later written, and much more straightforward is less interesting but more successful.
The Quarry is really less of a novel than a novel-length character study. It focuses on Kit, an Asperger-spectrum teenager whose dying father is hosting a final get-together of university drama school friends, one of whom may be Kit’s mother. Kit’s Asperger’s is handled with reasonable delicacy, and more through implication than direct reference. Kit himself is a strong character, and there’s a broadly interesting crew of supporting actors. Kit’s father, Guy, gets comparatively short shrift, and we never really get to know him very well – an odd omission, since there’s some resonance between his situation and Banks’ own illness. That’s a weakness, since much of the plot circles around him, his motivations, and an old videotape that he may have.
As a character study, the book is interesting and effective, but runs long. As a novel, it’s slow and somewhat plodding, and also runs long. More important, it never really develops past its beginning. Kit continues interesting, and we’re still engaged by his situation and observations. But the ending doesn’t really resolve anything, and while there’s something of a transition, the book stops more than it ends. Nothing important is solved, and the wrapup finds Kit in a new holding pattern not greatly different than the last. Banks also struggles to turn the ever-present quarry behind the house into a lasting metaphor. For me, it mostly felt like an idea he’d forgotten about for most of the book, and rushed to tie in at the close.
I found Walking on Glass to be the work of a journeyman – a talented writer but weak storyteller – and this was in some ways the same: very assured technique and characters, but without very much to say when all is said and done. It’s a pleasant, easy read, but likely to leave little lasting impact. Read his other books to remember Banks.