David's Reviews > The Crow Road

The Crow Road by Iain Banks
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's review
Dec 15, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: read-in-2009, unexpectedly-terrific
Read in January, 2009

Damn, this book was terrific! I don't know why I didn't stumble across it earlier, given it was published in 1992 and was adapted by the BBC as a miniseries in 1996 (oh wait .... the 90's were the years that got eaten by my "professional career"... the mindless TV years). Anyway, no matter.

"It was the day my grandmother exploded." Any author with the balls to have that as an opening sentence deserves to be given a chance, at least. Banks keeps up the brilliance for another 500 pages, drawing you in to the story of three Scottish families with a complicated, interlocked history. Young Prentice McHoan is a pretty irresistible first person narrator, so that it's a pleasure to accompany him as he navigates his last year at college, trying to come to terms with his various preoccupations: death, drink, sex, God, illegal substances, and whatever happened to Uncle Rory (who disappeared a decade earlier).

It takes four funerals, a wedding, and immeasurable amounts of whisky, but in between hangovers Prentice is pretty smart, and pieces it all together for an ending that is maybe a little too neat, but is definitely satisfying.

Two minor aspects of Banks's style could be a little offputting to some readers, but it's well worth the effort to keep reading. There's a fair amount of Scottish dialect, mainly dialog, though it's reasonably easy to figure out. Also, Banks alternates between Prentice's first-person narrative and an 'omniscient third-person' narrator, with frequent switches of timeframe across the generations. This is confusing for about the first 100 pages, until you get all the main characters straight in your head, after which it ceases to be an issue.

Great story with complex, believable characters, brilliantly written. What's not to love?
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Reading Progress

01/14/2009 page 40
7.98% "Best opening sentence evah!"
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Manny Pretty close between this and The Bridge as to which Banks novel I liked most. Though be warned that there is a lot of phonetically transcribed Scots dialect in The Bridge.

Yarb I've not read this one (it's been on my list for a while) but The Bridge is a stunning novel. I didn't think much of Whit though, and The Business is embarrassing for all concerned.

Manny Sounds like we agree on The Bridge. I found Whit very amusing, I'm afraid. You didn't like the cult?

Yarb I liked the disquisition on cults (and religion in general) - I think it was the relentless wackiness / eccentricity of all the characters that annoyed me, and I was never quite convinced by the voice Banks gave his heroine.

Manny I never reached my wackiness threshold, but I was probably close. I have met very few living goddesses, and had no one to compare with, so I believed in Isis. Better hope no one tries to convert me :) I did enjoy her angry asides about no one even washing her feet...

David This was very sad news. Even when reading works of his that I didn't like, there was always a sense that Iain Banks was someone you'd really enjoy sharing a glass of whisky with. (I love the fact that he won on Celebrity Mastermind with the specialist subject "Scottish whiskies and distilleries")


Manny I will miss him too. For a long time, he's been virtually the only SF author that I still really enjoy reading.

Perhaps this would be a good moment to pick up the last two books of the Culture series. I wonder if he considered that it was formally completed, or if more was planned that will now never be written...

Paul Andrews I've only started reading this book in the last couple of weeks. I've reached the point where Prentice is watching is brothers stand up comedy act before meeting his missing uncles ex girlfriend in the bar.

So far it can be hard to follow the complete plot as the narrative frequently jumps time periods, but I'm getting there with understanding all the interlocking characters and their connections to one another.

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