It has been the most beautiful of afternoons here. The morning cloud eventually burnt off and I found myself sitting in the garden, listening to the bird song and admiring my laburnum trees which are now perhaps seven days from absolute perfection. All the while wondering when I might, respectably, pour myself a glass of white wine.
And my mind had wandered, as it does, if you are a sad soul like me, to what might be the topic of my blog tonight. Which was to have been, if you’re interested, the dilemma of the Scottish Conservatives. Between the interest of the “Party” who need greater financial autonomy for the Scottish Parliament in order to have any political traction and the interests of their supporters who fear that this autonomy would inevitably be employed to their detriment. Another time perhaps.
For about four o’clock I went to uncork the wine and had a quick look at my phone and I learned that Iain Banks was dead.
Now, we’d all been expecting this at some point, for all the minor optimism in the last communication from the man himself, but none of us had been expecting it quite so soon.
And I found myself genuinely grieved.
I have read every book Iain Banks has written, with or without the M. Even the rubbish ones (isn’t that a terribly Scottish thing to say). Except the last one, which I haven’t quite been able to face. As I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to face his interview with Kirsty.
The “problem” with much literature written by Scots is that either it is parochial to the point of Kailyard or it starts from the assumption that, since it is written for an English speaking audience, the origin of its author is something to be obscured. But some transgress that: Scott; Stevenson; Iain Banks.
Although, as a Paisley man my favourite book should surely be Espedair Street and The Crow Road, as a title, can only ever be truly understood by those with a knowledge of the west end of Glasgow my absolute favourite of his books is The Bridge. For it most obviously defies that false dichotomy between speaking to your compatriots and speaking to the world. “WE” all know the bridge, or, more precisely, the bridges of which he writes. The story however, in both reality and in the imagined subconscious, speaks to people who will never ever see the Firth of Forth.
And when he abandoned that local but never parochial frame by the addition of an M to his name?....Consider Phlebas is one of very few books of which I have read the last fifty pages in tears. But Use of Weapons is better, in its parallel but intersecting narratives. And still not as good as The Player of Games.
To create an entire civilisation is a remarkable achievement but Banks did that, with no false or inconsistent steps on the way. Hopefully that achievement will die with him for fan fiction would be disrespectful except at the hand of a genius capable of equal invention of their own.
It’s only right that, in conclusion, I acknowledge the political path of his ideas; from disillusionment with “New” Labour to the conclusion that Independence might be the answer. I don’t agree with him on that in death anymore than I would have in life. That is Scotland.
But would that we could have argued that out in the Omar Khayyam tonight and then repaired to Haymarket to depart in different directions.
His death will be mourned as much by Gordon Brown as it is by Alex Salmond. Both will have read his books and both will feel his loss. As we all do.
For an entire Nation mourns tonight.
Iain Banks (1954-2013)