Before anything else, let me start by saying that Iain Banks is a goddamn international treasure. If you’ve never heard of him, than you’d better get out there and start reading, there are something like thirty novels out there, split between his contemporary and sci-fi works, and at least 90% are quite excellent. I can’t think of another writer as prolific as Banks’ who was actually able to maintain that level of quality. I’m very sorry to say that he passed away last year, and we’ll be seeing no more of his sharp and biting, deeply humanist novels again. Still, he’s left behind an impressive body of work. There aren’t many Banks novels I’ve yet to read. This is one of the last.
Stonemouth is the story of an oh-so-clever young man who’s run into a spot of trouble in his little Scottish hometown and been forced out into the world, leaving behind the impossibly elegant and with-it lady who he’s quite sure is the love of his life. Now he is returning home, and all the secrets and mysteries are going to be dragged out into the light.
If you are a Banks reader, that plot synopsis probably looks rather familiar, and you might be thinking to yourself hey now, I’ve read that one already, haven’t I? Truth is, Stonemouth is pretty much paint-by-numbers Banks. What were personal tropes of his are verging on cliché at this point. Everything feels very familiar and formulaic. All the regulars are there, the debauched Oscar Wilde-esque best friend, the flashbacks to turbulent boyhood adventures, the excessive drugs and alcohol, the wild girls who all want to get with the protagonist in the worse way, the sullen old person at the center of the mystery, the frankly obnoxious name dropping of products and persons intended to make the book feel youthful and vibrantly now, it’s all here on full display. It’s a bit disappointed to see Banks fall back on this stuff yet again, especially given how inventive and excellent his sci-fi novels have been.
Now that the disclaimers are all out of the way, I’m just going to come out and say it: This is an excellent book. Yes, it may be paint-by-numbers Banks, but nobody does that as well as he does. It’s a book full of mystery and surprise and clever dialogue and likable characters. I had a wonderful time reading this book, and frankly couldn’t put it down.
It felt a bit like hanging out with an old friend who you haven’t seen in a long time, and only just realize that you missed them quite terribly.
You should check it out.