This is a really sad review to write, because as everyone will know The Quarry is the last book completed by Iain Banks before his untimely death a month or so ago, a real loss to the world of books. And as everyone probably also knows, one of the main characters is dying of cancer, a fact that Banks made much of in his last interviews, lamenting the lateness of his research amidst a lot of gallows humour. I was very lucky to have met him briefly at a book signing in London where the Book God and I queued to get our copy of Excession signed and had a little chat about The Culture and Michael Moorcock. He was a twinkly man with a dry sense of humour and a lot of interest to say and he will be missed by his fans.
His last book centres around Kit who is 18 and somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He is also in the middle of the last weeks of his father Guy’s illness, cancer which is at an advanced stage and, with only the help of a sort of housekeeper, Kit is the main carer. the events of the book take place over one weekend where hid father’s closest friends come to visit, say their last goodbyes and, which seems to be important for all of them, look for a video recording of them when they were students which if it got into the public domain would have a real effect on all of their lives. Kit assumes that it is a sex tape but that isn’t made clear for quite a while, because of course the tape is the McGuffin that kicks off a book which is about family, death, grief, friendship and growing up different. Kit doesn’t have effective people skills and some of the humour in the book is watching him work out how best to interact with the people around him, what is and isn’t acceptable to say.
I really liked The Quarry, though some of the characters in the book are quite unpleasant, not least Guy himself who is suffering physically and mentally and takes every opportunity to launch invective at the people around him. Thankfully Kit is a superb character, complex and simple all at once, trying his best. The thing he wants to know most of all is who is mother is, something that has always been kept hidden from him.
This is a very funny book in places, and although the subject matter takes on a whole new significance when you factor in that Banks got his diagnosis as he was coming to the end of the writing process he doesn’t hold back, and some of the passages where Guy lets loose how he feels are astonishingly bitter though you don’t get that sense from Banks that he necessarily agrees, because it is a book with quite a lot of hope in it.
So, a story that is really worth reading, sad as I said that there will be no more written, though I have two or three of his works that I still haven’t read so something for me to look forward to at least.