Finished reading: The Crow Road by Iain Banks 📚

You will, I think, be far from surprised to learn that this is a reread. At least the third read, in fact. I suggested it as a possibility for my book club, and when it wasn’t chosen I decided it was time anyway.

There are still books that should be in The Great Banksie Reread that I’ve only read once: Stonemouth and The Quarry. But I’ll get to those eventually.

One oddity about The Crow Road is that I’ve never blogged about it before. Yet I’ve loved it since I first read the opening line, at a convention in Glasgow in 1992, if memory serves.

‘Just read the opening line and you’ll buy it,’ my friend Steve said, when I was hesitant about shelling out the huge £10 price for the hardback. I had already read all of Banks’s earlier books, so I was definitely planning on getting it, but waiting for the paperback was the norm.

‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’ Steve was right. I bought it, and all he subsequent books, in hardback.

Memory does serve, but not all that well: I’ve written all that before, it turns out, after Banksie died. Though it remains slightly unclear which convention it was that year.

A book is more than its opening line, though. The Crow Road is a family drama, set mostly in a fictional Scottish town not far from where I grew up. Also in Glasgow, a non-fictional city where the titular road exists. The metaphorical one is everywhere, of course: it means death, in the vernacular of that exploding grandmother.

I read it with more of a writerly eye this time, I think, and I wondered whether the structural games really add anything to the whole. I don’t mean the parts that are effectively speculative: the main character, Prentice McHoan, trying to work out what might have happened to his missing uncle. Nor the flashbacks in third-person, when the main narrative is in first. That makes sense, as they’re showing us Prentice’s childhood, or things that happened to other family members when Prentice wasn’t there.

I’m more thinking about a couple of flashes forward, that hint about where the many narrative is going to go. They aren’t enough to really make the reader speculate, and they happen when we’re already well into the story, so they aren’t needed to make us keep going.

They do no harm, though, and maybe Banksie needed to use them to keep his own interest up. And there’s nothing wrong with them, or that.

I do find it hard to explain why this book is so compelling. I think it’s probably his best non-SF book. It’s probably my favourite, though it’s up there. I’ve long thought it was partly cultural for me, in that the characters and locations feel like people and places I knew growing up. But that can’t explain its broader appeal.

I guess Banksie was just a great writer.


Books 2024, 11