Monday, 10 June 2013

Goodbye Iain Banks | Scottish author of The Wasp Factory, Culture, The Crow Road

The end when it came was far more sudden, far swifter than anyone had thought. Ian Rankin, his friend and fellow Fifer, in a touching, off the cuff,passionate tribute, told the BBC news last night that even as recently as last Tuesday doctors had told the author that he had months rather than weeks to live. It turned out to be days.

Banks was 59. A prolific novelist, he has written science fiction and ‘mainstream’ novels since his early twenties – his breakthrough, The Wasp Factory, was published when he was just 29. He was a storyteller first and foremost, which is perhaps why he was never feted by the literary judges. His fans loved him, forgave him, delighted in his success when he got things right. The comments on social media over the past 24 hours have been telling: Banks wrote about a world people recognised as their own time and place.

North of the border this meant a lot. Banks’ novels with their Scottish settings, accents and colour offered his fellow countrymen a strong sense of identity in a culture that was otherwise dominated by American TV and film; not to mention a London-centric culture.

His Scottishness might have been off-putting to those who didn’t come from the land of his beloved whisky – but the opposite was the case. If anything it made him more endearing.

Neil Gaiman: He was one of us
One of the most moving pieces about him I’ve read this morning is Neil Gaiman’s in the Guardian. There’s a degree of respect there, of love, even though the pair were, as Gaiman puts it, not strictly speaking that close.

Gaiman is English-born, American-based, but Banks was “one of us”, noting: “If you've never read any of his books, read one of his books. Then read another. Even the bad ones were good, and the good ones were astonishing.”

I interviewed Banks a year ago, on the phone, about his thenlatest novel Stonemouth, for the Big Issue’s books pages. It’s a brief article and one that didn’t really do him justice. But at the time it wasn’t Iain Banks The Author we were talking about it, was simply The Latest Iain Banks Book, and I’d never have held it up as one of his best.

That said, there was something about Stonemouth, as Gaiman says, that makes it worth the read. And you felt reading it that this was the same man who had written The Crow Road, The Bridge and The Wasp Factory. There was a heart to it along with the darkness. It suggested there was more to come…

Just two books have followed. The first was his last Culture novel, The Hydrogen Sonata, and now this month we get The Quarry, which focuses on a boy whose father is dying of cancer. Yeah. Worth reading. Expect a lot more heart.