Location: 1847, Great Western Arcade. Another veggie restaurant with delicious halloumi fish’n’chips. Highly recommended!

Chosen by: Lorna

Category: Favourites

Review: With one of the most famous opening lines ever—“It was the day my grandmother exploded”, The Crow Road has become somewhat of an icon. It is often hailed as the best Iain Banks fiction book. We briefly discussed Banks’ impressive accolades as both as contemporary fiction and Sci-Fi writer, successfully managing to penetrate both genres with his alternate names.

At 500+ pages, this novel is an epic Scottish tale of family relationships—of life and death. Narrated by the somewhat immature Prentice as he returns from university for his grandmother’s funeral, we are introduced to his interesting collection of family members and two other local families with interweaving pasts. In some respects, this is a coming of age novel for Prentice, who begins the novel preoccupied with sex, drinking and drugs, his beautiful cousin Verity, and the unexplained disappearance of his Uncle Rory 20 years ago.

In other senses, the novel is a mystery—what happened to Uncle Rory? It’s also an exploration of the question of religion and faith, played out through Prentice’s belief in a higher power and his father’s staunch atheism, and their strained relationship.

Alternating Prentice’s musings with a third-person narrator, the novel jumps back into the past frequently, with several time periods covered in the lives and relationship of the three families. This back and forth, and huge cast of characters, can be confusing—especially early on. (Someone suggested that the novel should include a family tree.) The novel is enjoyably nostalgic if you remember the eras depicted, and the novel is very “of its time” without being horribly dated.

Despite the plethora of characters included, they are well drawn and believable with their many failings. As Banks is prone to, the novel is ridiculously well-written and descriptive, with moments of brilliant humour. However, it’s not a particularly easy read with Scottish dialogue and deep subject matters.

For this reason, we scored the novel well—8/10—despite more than half of us not hugely enjoying it. A few of us thoroughly enjoyed the novel’s musings. But most members felt it simply wasn’t gripping enough, spending too much time in Prentice’s head and in flashbacks, with little actually happening. This lead to an ebbing and flowing (and sometimes waning) interest. In summary, “it was a strange book…”

One strong point of agreement was in Banks’ beautiful portrayal of Scotland—we were ready to pack our bags!

Score: 8/10

Favourite quotes: “People can be teachers and idiots; they can be philosophers and idiots; they can be politicians and idiots… in fact I think they have to be… a genius can be an idiot. The world is largely run for and by idiots; it is no great handicap in life and in certain areas is actually a distinct advantage and even a prerequisite for advancement.”

“God, what did any of it matter, in the end? You lived; you died. You were as indistinguishable from a distance as one of these blades of grass, and who was to say more important? Growing, surrounded by your kin, you out-living some, some out-living you. You didn’t have to adjust the scale much, either, to reduce us to the sort of distant irrelevance of this bedraggled field. The grass was lucky if it grew, was shone upon and rained upon, and was not burned, and was not pulled up by the roots, or poisoned, or buried when the ground was turned over, and some bits just happened to be on a line that humans wanted to walk on, and so got trampled, broken, pressed flat, with no malice; just effect.”