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The Crow Road

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  20,602 ratings  ·  831 reviews
"It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmont to bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach." Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and fu ...more
Paperback, 501 pages
Published 1993 by Abacus (first published 1992)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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This is a re-read for me, I first read this a long time ago but I loved returning to it. I admit to hugely adoring the author and his wide body of work, including the sci-fi. Iain Banks has a imaginative and distinctive storytelling approach, offbeat characters and unusual, curious scenarios that cannot fail to capture a reader's interest. The icing on the cake is the wit and humour pervading this novel of loss and death. There is a strong sense of the Scottish location in the tale of Prentice M ...more
Megan Baxter
Sep 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was enjoying the hell out of this book right up until, near the end, it decided without warning to become a murder mystery. That section felt so out of place with the rest of this meandering, detailed meditation on death and growing up.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Dec 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Nandakishore Mridula
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
When you start a book with this sentence, you have definitely got the reader hooked - and you will keep her with you throughout, provided you can keep the momentum.

Iain Banks pulls it off smoothly.

This is the tale of the McHoan clan of Gallanch: a gifted, eccentric and somehow cursed Scottish family, told mostly through the eyes of young Prentice McHoan. As the novel begins, we see him going through the angst of a young man at the beginning of the nine
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014

It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.

It's so easy to choose this famous opening line for starting a review of Crow Road, and therein lies the danger of focusing only on the sarcasm, the tongue-in-cheek, flippant running commentary provided by Prentice McHoan on the history of his family and on his own gr
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you want a completely absorbing, wickedly funny Scottish family saga full of often bizarre, complexly-f'ed-up intrigue and sibling rivalry etc, look no further, likesay, ye ken?

‘Did I ever tell you about the time I used to be able to make televisions go wonky, from far away?’

It was a bright and warm day, back in that same summer Rory had come out to the Hebrides with us. Rory and I were walking near Gallanach, going from the marked rocks in one field to the stone circle in another. I remembe
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The story is told mainly by Prentice McHoan who having returned to Scotland is reunited with his very different and complex family. Prentice tells tales of the family past, present and future all the time being preoccupied with: mainly death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances.
This is an entertaining read and full of humorous stories.
I would like to thank Net Galley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for supplying a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.

The Crow Road is the first novel by Iain Banks that I've read, and it has one of the best and irresistible opening hooks ever - it quite literally begins with a bang (get it?). What other novel begins with the main character's dead grandmother exploding?

Iain Banks is a
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Moving back and forth through time occasionally laying bare the souls of some characters. For me, it was all about Prentice sorting through his personal strategies to life. He likes to think of himself as an individual who stands on principles, shakey though they may sometimes be. If only his concepts of love and jealousy didn’t get in his way. Egotistical and witty, a kind of hero in the making - a spying voyeur hidden in the shadows, sometimes in rare moments slipping into silence. After inges ...more
Louise Wilson
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This is the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Crow Road.

It was the day my Grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B minor and reflected that it was always death that brought me back to Gallanach.

The Crow Road is the first book I have read by the author, Iain Banks. The story is told mostly by the protagonist Prentice McHoan. I could not make my mind up if this book was a family drama or a murder mystery. The charact
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another surprising 4 star rating. It happens to me every time I read an Iain Banks story. I spend the first three-quarters of the book threatening to abandon the whole affair, and then BAM I'm unable to put it down for the last 150-ish pages.

Also, I need to learn Morse code.
Apr 12, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, scottish-lit
The Crow Road is not Iain Banks best book, but I understand why it is his most popular (even though I am sure it's the wrong Banks book on that list of 1001 books to read).

• It has the most catchy of openings: "It was the day my grandmother exploded." It's an opening that appears regularly in lists of "best opening lines" and rightly so; it's intriguing, messy and one of the best hooks I can remember reading.

• Apart from some characters in a couple of his lesser known "mainstream" novels, the Mc
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is written in a very non-linear style which made it very difficult to comprehend what was going on at the beginning. Once I understood the rhythm of the narrative what developed was a very well written, interesting story of a family in Scotland. Banks did an excellent job with characterization, not only in defining them but making me really care what happened to them. This is a slower paced book that kept my interest to the end and actually left me wanting more. Highly recommend.
Jul 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Iain Banks. Every time I go through the process of selecting the next book to read, and one of his comes up, I wonder, hmmm...should I now? Or should I put this off until I'm ready; for a special time perhaps.

The thing is, Iain Banks is a very special writer. You need to be ready for him because his stories require a lot of focus and patience. This is what makes him great. Almost always, there is a payoff that makes all the wondering of where he's is going worthwhile.
Take Walking on Glass, for e
Nov 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: Powell's Indiespensable
Shelves: indiespensable
There are many ways to write a merely good novel, but I've read few great ones--novels with truly compelling plots--that don't make their emotional impact by pummeling their main characters until their lives just can't seem to get any worse, and then somehow finding that bit left to destroy. The Crow Road does this masterfully. Halfway through the book, main character Prentice has watched his romantic interests thwarted by those who are supposed to be closest to him, painfully embarrassed himsel ...more
Emilia Barnes
It's kind of hard to describe this novel, and to give it a review: so much happens, and so little is definable by the traditional standards by which we measure books. I mean, was it enjoyable? Yes. Was it well written? Yes. Was it un-put-down-able? For me, especially by the end, yes. But while all this is true, it isn't why I liked it. Or not the only reason. Behind the funny antics of three interesting families in Scotland, lies a mystery. But tying it all together is a very thought-provoking, ...more
Jul 30, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
If I could choose no stars I would have. I really cannot stand books that have characters I don't care about. No one in this mess of family / extended family / friends of family was remotely memorable. I could care less about their issues as well. I read this book because it's on the 1001 books list and I have never read anything by Iain Banks before - and I wasn't missing anything. The reviews for this book were great - so I was very disappointed in it's lack of eh - everything! Brilliant - not ...more
Aug 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Crow Road struck a major nostalgic chord within myself; the books main narrator and protagonist, Prentice McHoan, is roughly my age and brings to life his youth during the 1980's and early 1990's, and as as well as narrating his tale, he evokes the history, the culture and politics of those years. As well as The Crow Road being essentially a murder/mystery, a different take on crime fiction in many ways, it contains the trial and tribulations of three generations of two related Scottish Fami ...more

(Gratuitous cross-promotion)

I wrote this minimalist review as a protest against notgettingenough's intolerably wordy screeds. For example, look at her recent review of Jeremy Clarkson. I mean don't. Don't!
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Stayed up late to complete 100 pages yesterday, and read the last 50 pages this morning. :o)

This was so fabulous, a great human story. It takes us through the college years of Prentice McHoan, concentrating on how he experiences and relates to his family (immediate and extended), friends, romantic interests and also the world at large and the question of the existence of God. So clearly a bildungsroman, yet it doesn't have the feel I often associate with that type of work. Told anecdotally, and
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Probably my favourite book, and one I return to again and again and find something new. Evocative and funny and with one of literature's best narrators in Prentice. ...more
This was a rare case of reading a novel almost entirely because of its famous first line: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” I was familiar with the quote from the Bookshop Band song “Once Upon a Time” (video on bottom right here), which is made up of first lines from books, but had never read anything by the late Iain Banks, so when a copy of The Crow Road turned up in the free bookshop where I volunteered weekly in happier times, I snapped it up.

There’s a prosaic explanation for that ma
J.K. Grice
I made it half way through this book before abandoning it. The mass of characters from two different generations, as well as all the time period shifts seemed a bit hard to follow and harder to care about as time went on. I grew bored with the direction of the story. I didn't pick up on all of the Scottish slang either. ...more
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough good things about Iain Banks's The Crow Road. My only question is, why didn't I hear of him and read his work sooner? He's brilliant. It's like Graham Swift and Irvine Welsh met to write a novel, and Swift's insight tempered Welsh's mania, but Welsh's hipness updated Swift's subject matter. The result is a brilliant novel - grim, gritty, but funny and somehow uplifting without being cheesy.

It shouldn't make me feel good to read it - it should be depressing as hell, self-defea
Shruti Buddhavarapu
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aai-own
The best thing to have come out of my quitting Facebook is unarguably the rekindling of my love affair with reading. I don't know if I'm the only creep who follows snarky, funny and poignant reviews by absolute strangers (who mostly wouldn't know I'm following their reviews) and then religiously track down their favourite books, or be tempted into reading a book they've reviewed - books I'm sure I would never have even heard of in my own life, had it not been for Goodreads and the people I follo ...more
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
On the first page of The Crow Road, Banks delivers one of the best opening lines I’ve ever experienced: 'It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.'

And Banks just doesn’t seem to stop with his somber yet somehow hilarious prose, drawing us deeply into the McHoan family, and allowing us to explore their historie
Paul Ataua
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
There is something I don’t really understand that attracts me towards his novels. I am never sure I like them as I am reading them, but I always feel a certain feeling of satisfaction when I mull them over after finishing. 'The Crow Road' is no exception to this. It is yet another of Banks’s novels with multiple layers. It’s about family, about growing up, about coming of age, and there is a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. The murder mystery, of course, is the least important part. Fo ...more
Dan Myatt
Feb 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I first read this when I was seventeen (some 25 years ago) and for some reason hadn't picked this book off of my shelf since then! I cannot tell you why I just hadn't, but I'm so glad I did though.

It all came flooding back to me, the family history, the stories, the drama, the drunken antics all threaded through generations of the McHoan family (direct and extended members)

Brilliantly written, real characters you feel you know and a clever and complex plot.

(in other news it also reminded me how
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pam Baddeley
May 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
An interesting evocation of the lives of three interconnected Scottish families over three generations. Part of the interwoven narrative is in the first person from Prentice, one of the third generation, a young man who loses his way after falling in love with a woman not suited to him, and goes off the rails until it looks as if he will fail at university. He also has a serious rift with his father Kenneth, who is a socialist, a weaver of stories and an atheist.

The other parts of the story are
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This author also published science fiction under the pseudonym Iain M. Banks.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, living in Edi

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