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The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by Iain Banks (Books 2019, 23)

One interesting thing about this book that I don’t recall noticing when I read it twelve years ago is that the story itself is the titular approach. We don’t get to Garbadale House until about two-thirds of the way through, and then the rest of it is set there. With a few flashbacks and -forwards thrown in to both sections.

Banksie always plays with form and structure, and this is no exception. Not just the aforementioned directional flashes, but use of different viewpoint characters and tenses. Mostly it’s from the viewpoint of Alban McGill, one of the many members of the Wopuld family. Some scenes are from that of a cousin of his. There are even a couple of instances of promiscuous PoV, or “head-hopping,” where we get the thoughts of another character within the same scene.

Also some parts switch to present-tense, while most if it is past. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious function to those switches: it’s not like the tense reflects the timeline within the story. It seems arbitrary, almost random — though maybe I’m missing something there.

None of this harms the story, it’s just worth noting. The strangest of these devices is that there are three or four sections in first-person, from the PoV of a minor character. All the rest is third-person. That gives the impression that this character is more significant than he is. The text in those sections is also rendered with spelling mistakes and grocer’s apostrophes, as if it was the direct transcript of what this relatively poorly-educated character has scribbled down.

What’s the point of all that? I’m not sure. Just writerly games, maybe. I wonder if it suggests that Banks didn’t think the story itself was interesting enough to sustain the narrative, which might be a valid criticism. A well-off family with a secret at its heart has to decide whether to sell its business. The secret comes out, but it doesn’t make much difference. It would be significant to the characters affected, but we hardly see them after the reveal.

Endearing characters, though, and even on a second read (I didn’t recall the secret), it keeps the pages turning.

As I said twelve years ago, “In a book like this, the pleasure is in the journey more than the destination.”

From The Guardian‘s piece on what we learned in the election about the media:

One Labour MP who nearly lost their Brexit-backing seat told the Guardian that on doorstep after doorstep, people brought up Corbyn’s connections with the IRA after seeing memes and images on Facebook: “It was never used by the Tories in the campaign but there was a separate election going on, which was a Facebook-orientated campaign.”

Maybe this explains the hatred for Corbyn which so mystified me.

The next paragraph is astonishing:

The MP suggested constituents are increasingly overwhelmed by information and unsure what is real and what is not, assuming there is some sort of editing of what goes on Facebook. “People have a sense that some of this stuff is probably wrong but they have no compass. They would say: ‘But it’s on Facebook – how can there be something that isn’t true?’ They think there are gatekeepers but there aren’t.”

Emphases mine. Oh my god. How can anyone think that after all that’s happened? I realise that not everyone is as deeply into tech and politics as I am, but still.

We never had a chance, did we?

OA Going Away

I just discovered via a conversation on Micro.blog, that Netflix have cancelled The OA.

This is very disappointing. The OA was an incredible, confusing, glorious piece of work, and Brit Marling, its co-creator, has assured us that it all has a plan and an ending.

Now (or back in August, anyway) she’s had to write its obituary. I suppose some other company might pick it up, but since it’s mostly Netflix who do that these days, it seems unlikely.

Presumably the two completed seasons, 16 episodes in total, will remain on Netflix. I‘d still recommend watching them. Just remember that you’ll be left somewhere strange.

Broken Glass

I’ve been feeling kind of sorry for Jo Swinson today. Also for myself, and the whole country, especially underprivileged people, people with disabilities, the young, the old, minorities, the marginalised… Anyone who’s going to suffer under the new regime.

But Swinson lost her seat by just 149 votes, which must be especially heartbreaking. She always impressed me as someone who knew what she was talking about and was on top of things. She was part of the Cameron/Clegg coalition, which is problematic, but let’s let that go.

She’s quoted as saying:

One of the realities of smashing glass ceilings is that a lot of broken glass comes down on your head.

which is great, and sad.

People criticised her for making the Liberal Democrat campaign too presidential, too much about her, and that probably was a mistake. Though would they have criticised a male leader in the same way?

And there’s the business of promising to revoke Article 50. Which I was and am completely in favour of, even if it can seem undemocratic.1 The problem was not the promise, but the messaging. The story should have been, “Elect us to government and you’ll give us a mandate to revoke. Give us less power and we’ll work for a second referendum.” That was the story: she just seemed to have some difficulty expressing it in clear, simple terms, at least in the debates I saw.

All that said, I’m still baffled as to what has happened to the country.


  1. it wouldn’t be if handled properly, but it’s too late to go into that now. 

The Politics We Deserve?

Well tonight is a fucking disaster. Even if the reality is lower than the exit poll, it looks like it’s going to be a landslide for the Tories. We’ll get a hard Brexit starting in a month and a half (and taking years and years before it “gets done,” of course). We’ll see more privatisation in the NHS. We’ll see more austerity, I don’t doubt, despite the spending pledges that might have been in the Tory manifesto. And we’ll see moves to restrict what parliament and the courts can do to protect ordinary people.

Our best hope is that Johnson is incompetent, and that’s not something we should have to rely on.

What is wrong with this country? Why do people continue to vote against not just the interests of the most vulnerable in society, but against their own self interest?

On Twitter a lot of people are blaming Corbyn, and I think they’re right. I said just the other day that I didn’t understand the dislike; but a thread by @RussInCheshire has helped to clarify my thinking. This regards not so much why people generally dislike him, but why he was ineffectual or worse as a leader. The key points:

People will say “the media is biased”. Yes. But that’s the environment Labour leaders always operate in. Complaining about it is like trawler captains complaining the sea is wet. Yep. Learn to thrive in those conditions, or get off the boat.

People will say “they treated him worse than any previous leader”. They did. Cos he was shit at working the press, had a history of opinions that could be easily made to look awful, was inept on antisemitism, shifty on Brexit and cantankerous on TV.

People will say “no way is he racist”. Perhaps. But if people accused me of antisemitism, I’d be able to clearly defend myself, demonstrate my credentials, and put in place a strategy to stop accusations. He couldn’t. If he’s not antisemitic, he’s inept.

People will say “voters love him in person”. I’m sure. But we’ve been in the age of broadcasting for 80 years. What the hell use is being warm and cuddly to 600 people in a field, when you come over badly to 60 million people on TV?

The thread starts here, but it might be easier to read here, as expanded by the Threader App.

I still don’t understand — I never will — people who switch from Labour all the way to Conservative. They just vox-popped someone on the telly who used to vote Labour, but “couldn’t, in conscience,” vote for them with Corbyn as leader. Fair enough. But she voted Tory. Why go all the way over to the party that diametrically opposes the values she claims to support, when there are other progressive parties, that support some of those values. The party she voted for opposes those values.

Baffling. Utterly baffling.