Nigel's Reviews > Stonemouth

Stonemouth by Iain Banks
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Oct 31, 14

bookshelves: fiction
Read in July, 2012

I suppose this marks a return to form of sorts for Iain Banks. With the thesis-undermining caveats that I haven't read Steep Approach To Garbadale and I bloody loved Transition, Banks' non-M books have been pretty lacking since Whit. Generally readable and fun - if you ignore Song Of Stone - but lacking in depth, perhaps, with his customary skill, narrative flair, formidable imagination and exquisite writing all more or less present and correct, but not quite gelling to produce more than the sum of their parts.

Stonemouth hearkens back to The Crow Road, Whit, and presumably Garbadale. It features family and friends in a small rain-battered Scottish location, ancient and not-so-ancient incidents rediscovered through the present, old secrets and tragedies and past mistakes, all subtly and profoundly shaping the here and now.

Stewart Gilmour returns to the town of Stonemouth which he left five years before under dramatic and unpleasant circumstances. Granted leave to attend the funeral of the patriarch of one of two crime families who run Stonemouth, Stewart visits old haunts, meets old friends, remembers episodes from his old life and pines guiltily for his lost love.

Despite the dramatic denouement, this isn't a thriller, nor is it full of terrible twists and appalling revelations - there's a bit of business involving cameras and such, but it's slight compared to, say, the central mystery of Crow Road. No, most of the things that we learn about in the past are flagged well ahead, and though that generates its own type of tension - the fate of Wee Malky and the incident in the hotel toilet are typically brilliant Banksian episodes of horror and hilarity - this is very much the story of a man who has everything going back to the town that threw him out in the forlorn hope of coming to terms with the frankly shitty thing he did.

And it's grand. A rattling story with real heft and weight. Perhaps it needed a Crow Road mystery or a Complicity-style revelation to boost it into the upper league, but it's a perfectly satisfying read with some lovely writing, and that brilliant thing Banks does over and over again in any genre, which is to create an utterly believable group of friends and show us their lives together and apart as they grow up, go their separate ways, and revisit the things that shaped their lives.
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