About me
Bookshop

Get new posts by email.

About me

Review: Stonemouth by Iain Banks

Hold up!

See that little date above?

This post was published years ago.

My opinions have changed over time: I think it's quite fun to keep old posts online so that you can see how that has happened. The downside is that there are posts on this site that express views that I now find offensive, or use language in ways I'd never dream of using it today.

I don't believe in airbrushing history, but I do believe that it's important to acknowledge the obvious: some of what I've written in the past has been crap. Some of it was offensive. Some of it was offensively bad. And there's may be some brass among the muck (you can make up your own mind on that).

Some of what I've presented as my own views has been me—wittingly or unwittingly—posturing without having considered all the facts. In a few years, I'll probably think the same about what I'm writing today, and I'm fine with that. Things change. People grow. Society moves forward.

The internet moves on too, which means there might be broken links or embedded content that fails to load. If you're unlucky, that might mean that this post makes no sense at all.

So please consider yourself duly warned: this post is an historical artefact. It's not an exposition of my current views nor a piece of 'content' than necessarily 'works'.

You may now read on... and in most cases, the post you're about to read is considerably shorter than this warning box, so brace for disappointment.

I’ve previously enjoyed a lot of Iain Banks’s work. His first novel, The Wasp Factory, is a work of gothic brilliance that I loved even before I went on to study it at A-Level. And it’s possibly the only book I’ve ever studied that I haven’t ended up hating as a result!

That said, I’m not a fan of science fiction, and so I don’t enjoy his Iain M Banks science fiction, and didn’t like his cross-over book Transition. I think Banks excels in coming-of-age novels of self-discovery, like the aforementioned Wasp Factory, Whit (which I always want to call Isis), and The Crow Road. If we’re going to get all A-Level English about it, I enjoy his bildungsroman. Or possibly his entwicklungsroman. I’ve forgetten the difference.

Whichever it is I enjoy, Stonemouth happily nestles within the genre. It’s a simple story of coming home, facing demons, and growing. Stewart Gilmore returns to Stonemouth, the small Scottish town of his birth, for a funeral. He’s previously been run out of town by a local gang following an incident revealed only late in the novel, and possibly not entirely deserving of the lengthy build-up and sense of forboding.

This is Banks at his best, so there’s plenty of darkness, and dark humour in spades. The strength of this novel is the relative mundanity of the darkness: nobody explodes, nobody floats away with a bunch of balloons, and nobody’s brain is eaten by maggots. Granted, there is a little defaecation on a golf-course, but there’s nothing in this novel that pushes the boundaries of plausability too far. As with some of Banks’s previous novels, the strength is in the evocation of gothic themes within contemporary life.

The story is engaging, and the characterisation is great, with that uniquely evocative description which is a hallmark of Banks’s work. In fact, the characterisation here is so deep even amongst the minor characters that I could readily enjoy a return to Stonemouth at some point in the future, with a plot centered around some of those other characters.

Normally, Banks’s prose pours from the page. I don’t know of any other writer that pulls off the same trick. Sentences are so carefully constructed that they rarely need to be re-read. The dialogue is natural and flowing. There’s simply no effort to reading his novels. However, in this book, I kept ‘tripping over’ the pop culture references littered through the book. I have no idea why Banks feels the need to discuss iPhones, MacBooks, Family Guy, Cee Lo Green and the like so often. They don’t add to the characterisation, and don’t sit comfortably with Banks’s prose, and their inclusion feels like an odd decision which will serve only to make the book date very quickly. It’s a relatively minor quibble, but it is a little irritating.

All things considered, I thought Stonemouth was great. Other reviewers have criticised it for retreading old ground. That’s probably fair, but I can’t honestly say that it affected my enjoyment. This is the first novel I’ve read in quite some time that I’ve felt a little disappointed to have finished. As such, it comes highly recommended.

Stonemouth is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

This post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

Recently published posts




Random posts from the archive




Comments and responses

Trackback from elsewhere on the site



12:31
27th November 2013.

This post has been referenced by another on this site:
sjhoward.co.uk » Review: The Quarry by Iain Banks




Compose a new comment

I'm not taking comments on my blog any more, so I'm afraid the opportunity to add to this discussion has passed.




The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.