This is Iain Banks first novel from 1984, and it is the first Iain Banks novel I have ever read. This has been sitting, lonely, on my shelf for about a year and I had every intention of reading it a hundred times. If I’m being honest, the size of the novel makes it convenient to read, sitting comfortably in the hand at 184 pages. Don’t be fooled by this! This is 184 pages of beautifully uncomfortable reading. I am equally impressed and disturbed by this novel, slightly worried I haven’t let this novel settle into my mind and that I am writing this review too soon, having finished the novel 10 minutes ago. That is the intelligence of this novel, it forces you to sit down, back straight and pay attention to it. If you laze around reading a page or two at a time you’re likely to miss the fine details, and then loose the plot. At one point, and you’ll know where I mean, I had to hand this book to my partner as I couldn’t continue reading, I couldn’t even bare to have it in my bag, but that lasted about 5 seconds before I just had to know what was going to happen. This novel doesn’t give the game away at any point, even the ending is a slow burner, but the more I think about it the more I want to chew over the finer images of fire and running, drunken haze’s and kite flying.
The novel follows an *cough* eccentric period in the eccentric life of Frank as he methodically grooms and cultivates the island that is his home. In the process we discover some of Frank’s achievements and are given an in-depth view of Frank’s mind. It’s a journey, pack a cheese sandwich and an apple in that backpack and be prepared to ramble the dunes. The blurb gives away that Frank has killed three people, children, two cousins and his brother, two boys and one girl, and these murders dropped from a great height *still a bit raw!* fall into the lap of reader and force you to accept them and move on, or you’ll miss them. Murder mingles with animal abuse and the border line of sanity and insanity are amongst the side lines. The relationship of a secluded family with a history of macabre, and how these twisted jigsaw pieces fit together is the true plot of this novel.
The imagery contained in Banks novel is beautiful, set on the north-east coast of Scotland and allows for a connection between plot and nature that accentuates and isolates all characters in the novel. The glory of nature is juxtaposition against the mechanical thinking and construction that Frank takes out on the island itself. Turning beautiful rolling sand dunes into dams, or erecting poles high in the sky that will break up the horizon line and a step further adorning them with the dried heads of gulls and mice, or the occasional cat. There is a real fight in this novel between nature and human intervention, which leads subtly to the end of the novel.