This is the last novel to be written by a writer I have loved for my entire adult life. I first discovered him with The Crow Road in the early 90s and have read a lot of his contemporary fiction, but none of his sci-fi.
The novel is narrated by an eighteen year old boy called Kit that is a little on the nerdy side, with a touch of the Asperger’s about him. I like him. I think I have a thing for characters just like him. I think an awful lot of his thoughts and observances on life and polite conversation are quite accurate, many of which I have considered myself in the past. Does that mean I have a touch of Asperger’s about me, too?
Kit’s father is dying of cancer and his friends all come to stay in the house for one last time, to see him before he dies and to try to find a mysterious tape they made back at University in the early 90s. I am just a few years younger than this group of friends, and their interactions and reminiscences back to their Uni days, coupled with the fact that I discovered Banks when I was the age these people were friends, makes the dialogue feel quite personal and real.
The story, such as it is, revolves around the characters trying to find an “embarrassing” tape that has gone missing. The clue as to where it might be is given away in the title of the book (only a spoiler for the exceptionally unquestioning). I read the book in just a few days and was completely absorbed by it, but really, not a great deal happened and the ending was very disappointing.
There are a lot of rants from the dying man and some of the other characters about their disappointment in their fellow man and the direction their country is going in. Banks was dying when he wrote this novel, I wonder if some of these rants are really his.
The characters discuss Nietzsche’s comment about when you stare into the abyss is stares back at you, which is of course bollocks, like many things Nietzsche said. Banks has a much better view on it, when commenting on the quarry the book is named for; “in the end we’re just standing here looking into a big fucking hole in the ground.” A far wiser metaphor for life from an extraordinary writer who will be sadly missed.