A Blue Room Book Review – The Quarry – Iain Banks


It’s out in the shed – in one of the plastic storage tubs. It would take a bit to find it as it is all a fair old jumble out there. We are renovating here by the river. I would have liked to have watched it again before before I commenced this pondering, caused by reading Scottish writer Banks’ latest and last novel. Yes, sadly he will beguile his fans with words no longer – he passed away in June this year. It’s a sobering thought – that he, being born in 1954, is a younger man than I. He knew he was going. The big C. He asked his partner, Adele Hartley, to marry him – to become his widow. She agreed. Banks has had an asteroid named after him. He wrote science fiction too.

Eighty per cent of Tasmanians support voluntary euthanasia. Reflecting this, the leaders of our island’s governing parties introduced a bill to enable the right of islanders to choose their own timing of death when it all comes too much, for whatever reason. It didn’t succeed – the majority of our politicians reflected the minority view and voted it down. These throw-backs to the Dark Ages think they can play with people’s lives – thus subjecting their constituents to the possibility of ongoing excruciating pain, diminished self respect and anguish for their loved ones. It forces many to commit a crime. It is obscene that we can do the right thing for animals, but in this country, not for ourselves. I do not know the intimate details of Banks’ death, but cancer does not have a reputation for going softly on its hosts. Guy, though, is not going gently in ‘The Quarry’. His ‘friends’ have gathered, not to say their farewells, but to ensure no light is thrown on a misadventure from their college days, now that some have become ‘important’. The whole tome reminded me of a movie that profoundly affected me, a movie I’ve watched several times since without it losing its hold – the movie out in a tub.

For a decade or so I lived apart from my DLP (Darling Loving Partner). She grew restless of provincial life, understandably, moving to what has now become our idyll by the river. I stayed in my job up north till retirement. Much of the detritus of that life I have, with my son’s assistance, dispensed with. Those bits I find I cannot live without I have stored out in the shed – in much the same way as the baggage of Guy’s soon to be unfairly truncated life was stored in various outhouses around his fraying Pennine abode. All of it had to be ransacked to find the incriminating tape, as I would have had to do to find that DVD – and of course Sod’s Law would have applied, as it did in the book.

The ‘The Barbarian Invasions’, made in 2003, was a Canadian effort, winning a César in that year for the best movie in the French language. It is part of a trilogy – but I haven’t seen its partners. Directed by Denys Arcand and starring Rémy Girard as the main, eponymously- named character.. Again, it is a gathering of friends and family around the dying Rémy before he takes matters into his own hands – as our political representatives are forcing so many to do. I was a blathering wreck after the final scenes – I defy most not to be! The main man didn’t want to go, but he had none of the bitterness of Guy in ‘The Quarry’ – there wasn’t the railing against what the world had become; railing against the unfairness of it all; railing against the fact he now had to have someone to wipe his bottom! And that is what scares me – that one day I may have to depend on those around me, on the people I love, to do the unpleasant stuff that I can no longer manage. The right to choose one’s own timing should be down to choice. The ultimate embarrassments should not have to endured for no purpose apart from prolonging a life that no longer has meaning or worth. Hopefully, by the time I reach the end of my journey, those we entrust to make our society a better place will have stopped playing god! As with the French-Canadian gong-winner, there have been deaths a-plenty on the silver screen in 2013. Earlier this year I viewed a very hard death in the mesmerising, deeply moving and difficult to watch ‘Armour’. It gave me much fodder to ruminate on. There was a gentler, although no less heart wrenching, death in ‘Song for Marion’. The death of Bill Nighy’s character in the currently screening ‘About Time’ also left me in a mess – he so needed to tell his son how much he loved him before he departed. In some ways the best death was portrayed in ‘The Artist and the Model’, even if I could never be one to pull a trigger. There are deaths and then there are deaths. Where would film-makers and authors be without them?

I must admit, some of this particular book took a bit of getting through. It started promisingly, with this punter enjoying the device of autistic son as narrator. Banks’ offering came ‘alive’ at the end once the ‘sex’ tape had been located, sort of. The eighteen year old’s relationship with his father’s long-time friend Hol was tantalising and a treat – would they or wouldn’t they? The supposedly ‘soaring’ riffs of Guy and his former cronies did get to this reader the more the pages were turned. All of this crew were somewhat ‘The Slap’ – ish in their demeanour.

From my Googling of the link between this tale and the author’s diagnosis, as to when Banks actually knew of his own demise, was a tad confusing. Some sources suggest he was presented with the news after the book was in the hands of the publisher, others stated, in fact, it was a reaction to the discovery. The book’s blurb describes ‘The Quarry’ as ‘…among Iain’s greatest work.’ If that is the case, I doubt I will seek out his back catalogue. But, please, please dear reader, if you do embark on his swansong, under no circumstance try the party trick on page 193 at home. Yucky. Yucky in the extreme.

Iain Banks

Iain Banks’ web-site = http://www.iain-banks.net/

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