Friday, March 18, 2005

The End of the Affair

I used to love Iain Banks. (When I say that, I don't mean "love" as in I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner, or The Power of Love by Jennifer Rush (or even Frankie Goes to Hollywood)... I just mean love as in... hmmm.... a pint of cold beer on a warm summer late afternoon, say... or finally locating Coup de Torchon on DVD (for 5 quid). No, it's more than that (my former love for Iain Banks, not the DVD price). But you get my drift.).

But now I don't.

It's not a sudden thing. We went along fine for a while, our relationship - sparked initially by the sublime THE WASP FACTORY - bolstered by COMPLICITY, THE BRIDGE, THE CROW ROAD. I was smitten, so much so that I could forgive him for spending so much time in the arms of others (his SF novels - sorry, I just don't get them). But then he wrote this shit, and the rot set in.

I started looking at him differently, wondering who he really was beneath that bearded, enigmatic exterior. I thought I knew him, but the embarrassing shower of shite that was THE BUSINESS proved how wrong I was.

Still, my love endured. I was prepared to forgive and forget, as long as I could see at least some of the old Iain shining through. As long as he made an effort, rather than flailing around with imploding plotlines, or using his narrator to rant about his own political bugbears rather than tell a story. But then... But then...

But then I read RAW SPIRIT.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is a good book in publishing terms, and I can see folks liking it. He goes on and on about malt Scotch whisky. He drives around Scotland, talking in detail about how great all his cars are. We get to see how witty and earthy all his great friends are. We find out that 99% of Banks' driving (and there's a lot of it) is purely for pleasure. We see that he opposes the Iraq invasion, and a lot of other things (all left wing). We are told countless drinking stories, and find out that Iain once jumped off a 10' high wall and was caught by his madcap (but eternally loyal) pal. For a laugh.

Iain, you have a great life. You have worked hard at your writing, have put out some of the best novels of the past 20 years, which have been published properly and have sold well. You have had the breaks, yeah, and probably been in the right place at the right time. But none of that takes away from the fact that you are a fucking marvellous novelist who deserves the rewards of fame, fortune, and happiness. But do you know what?


I'm sure lots do. I'm sure there are plenty more fish in the sea - fish who will gasp at your descriptions of distillery visitor's centres, and your hilarious tale of how you wrote off that Porsche 911. But I'm not one of them. And that's it between you and me.

It's over.

Needs? You want to talk about my needs, now? OK, I need:

flickers of hope
more trouble and strife
blood (spiritual if not biological)
(preferably both)
mental illness
dirty sex
laughing in the face of certain death
sudden violence in pubs
searching searching searching (but for what?)
bodily fluids
more conflict
and finally, resolution.

Or at least some of all that.

Maybe you can find it in you to give me some of that, in your own way. Maybe, just maybe, we can get back together again one day. They say an old flame never goes out.

Until then, there's the memories.


Jenny D said...

Interesting. I have no plans to read Raw Spirit but I absolutely LOVE Iain Banks, and I thought "The Business" was pure genius--it's one of my very favorites of his recent ones, that and "Whit."

Charlie, I MUST HAVE SOME OF THOSE BEER COASTERS. That was a really, really good idea. They look beautiful. I know a bar in Philadelphia that would definitely use them but I guess you will prefer to wait for the US release. But can I please, please get a few for home use? And when the book comes out here, I can give you the info of this very good Philadelphia spot that will go for them in a big way... (For some reason all my bar connections are in Philadelphia rather than NY.)

Charlie Williams said...


Banks is one of the best writers in recent years, yes. I just hate RAW SPIRIT, THE BUSINESS, and to a lesser degree DEAD AIR. I guess I tend to turn on idols who start turning out stuff I don't like.

I'll email you about the coasters. Thanks!

Ray said...

Completely agree with you about Banks. The Wasp Factory was utterly brilliant, and I also loved The Bridge and Walking On Glass (parts of which were about as sci-fi-fantasy as I'm ever gonna get). But recently, I dunno, the sheen is no longer there.

Simon said...

Couldn't agree more. I love whisky. I love The Crow Road, Espedair Street, Wasp Factory - how could I fail not to love Raw Spirit?
It's boring.
I just gave up after about 150 pages, when I realised that the big attraction with Banks is his (warped) imagination. There is none in this.
Still, if you want to read unoriginal thoughts about the Iraq War, the ergonomics of Land Rovers and not-so-hilarious things that happened to novelists twenty plus years ago, this is definitely the book for you.

Charlie Williams said...

Maybe if Banks had talked about his fear that he might be an alcoholic... or his struggle to reconcile his flashy material wealth with his left-wing inclinations... or just given something away about himself, it might have worked.

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pennie said...

I loved his early stuff... I started to part company with song of stone... I never got into the sci fi...

However raw spirit led to my son J, born 2005 March... which is why I am checking your blog out for march 2005

Picked up 2 of your books in Hay last November on the ground that it looks interesting... you were born in 1971... in worcestershire...

it's amazing the trivial weird stuff that leads you to an author...