Review of Iain Banks ‘The Quarry’

26 Oct

Banks photo

by Rhea H. Boyden

The most enjoyable part of reading a novel for me is when I identify and get to the heart and core of the book’s message. And while I have never attempted to write a full novel, I still know the narcotic and giddy feeling you get as a writer when you reach that point in whatever you are writing, be it a poem, an article or an essay. The point where you feel ‘This is what I really have to say here. This is the grain of truth that sums it all up.’

In his final novel ‘The Quarry’ Iain Banks writes about six old friends who have a reunion in a crumbling house at the edge of a quarry. The owner of the house, Guy, is dying of cancer and his only son, Kit, aged 17, is the narrator of the story. Part of the story talks of how Guy deals with his fear of the disease, which is partially autobiographical as Iain Banks himself died of cancer only weeks before ‘The Quarry’ (which was his 27th novel), was published.

The heart of the story to me is the moment when Guy, his son Kit and the visiting friends are standing around the bonfire that they have just lit. It is a huge pile of junk that they have cleared out of the house (Guy was a hoarder). They all stand mesmerised by the fire watching it devour moth-eaten carpets, old wooden cupboards, boxes of paper, and bags filled with old clothes that Guy thought were too tattered to give to a charity shop. Kit describes the fire and the flames and how it becomes more furious and angry, turbo charged and excited. He then compares the fire to a river: ‘It starts small and hesitant, becomes bigger, quicker, more assured as it grows, bursts with power and fury in its prime, then returns to slow, meandering quietness towards the end, eventually giving itself to nothing, recycled into its constituent parts.’ When I read this I stopped, looked up and thought: ‘This fire and river comparison is a wonderful metaphor for life in general.’ I then read on and my thought was confirmed by Kit’s narration: ‘It is hardly uncommon: something going from near helpless small beginnings, through childhood and youth to vigourous adulthood then decrepitude, and an end.’

This made me think of my own life: how I grew up in Ireland and how I have spent 20 years of my energy filled youth abroad, and how now, as I approach my 40th birthday I have returned to Ireland. It makes me think of how life is cyclical and how even in moments of doubt about my life in Dublin, that in fact, this really is the perfect place for me to be right now. Having just finished reading ‘The Quarry’ I feel inspired by it and happy. Iain Banks was a fascinating man and was hugely prolific: He published 27 novels before he died of cancer at age 59 in June 2013. I look forward to reading his book of poems that will be published in 2015. Banks said before he died: ‘The poems are part of the desperate urge to get things that were supposed to be long term projects out of the way. I am going to see if I can get a book of poetry published before I kick the bucket. I have got about 50 I am proud of.’ It makes perfect sense to me that someone who is dying would try and condense the rest of their work into poetry, for it is the language of the heart and soul and when faced with death you have to find ways to get to that grain of truth faster than in a novel. I have another Iain Banks novel sitting on my bookshelf. I think I will start reading it now on this blustery Sunday October afternoon.

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