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“The Crow Road” by Iain Banks

crow road

I've read all of Iain (M.) Banks' Science Fiction novels, many of which I thought were excellent but not his non-SF. This seems to be one of his most popular non-SF books, I've heard it suggested several times that it has one of the best first lines in literature ("It was the day my Grandmother exploded.").

I thought it was a good book, it does take quite a while for it to become clear where the plot is heading but even the early stages which feel more like a series of vignettes of things that happened to various members of the McHoan family is entertaining. Prentice is an entertaining narrator, it can be frustrating as he makes a sequence of incredibly poor decisions but he does at least develop as a character as the story moves along. I also liked the flashbacks to the previous generation, particularly those following Prentice's father in his younger days, I think some of the best writing in the book comes from Kenneth McHoan's storytelling to the children. While the book's main theme is death and how people cope with it, it didn't feel like a particularly gloomy book, there is plenty of humour in here (even if some of it is a bit morbid), and while the ending may be bittersweet it at least has some hopeful elements.

I also really liked the book's portrayal of its setting. Having grown up in the Scottish Highlands I've seen plenty of fiction supposedly set in Scotland which just didn't ring true, but this felt very authentic to me (not that I was expecting anything different from Banks). Although the town of Gallanach itself where much of the book takes place is fictional I recognise a lot of places and things from the rest of the book. It's also a good portrayal of its time as well, the 'present day' in the book is now 30 years ago and some parts feel familiar (the political landscape in some ways hasn't changed that much) while others feel quite different (such as a University student like Prentice finding computers exotic and not knowing what an e-mail is).

Rating : 8 / 10

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