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16. 5. 2011

Iain Banks - The Crow Road (Vraní ulice)

      Let me say right at the beginning that this book is amazing and I'll try not to repeat it too often. My love affair with Iain Banks' books continues to grow.
      As always, I'm finding it difficult to write something coherent about a book I like. (Mocking things is so much easier.) Well, The Crow Road is a family saga of sorts. At the same time, it's a mystery novel and it's about personal beliefs and it's full of inordinate drinking and Scottish landscape and accent. What is The Crow Road about? “Death, Sex, Faith, cars, Scotland, and drink” – Banks quoted in “Ian Banks and the Fiction Factory”. Well, the author knows best, I suppose.
      It deals with two generations of the McHoans, the Urvills, and some Watts.  More specifically, Prentice McHoan, the first person narrator of the most of the book, and his brothers James and Lewis, and their father Kenneth McHoan and his siblings Fiona, Rory and Hamish. Prentice's aunt Fiona married Fergus Urvill. That's probably enough of the genealogy. But it's important.
      The succession of deaths starts right at the beginning, with the sentence “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Prentice comes home to attend his grandmother's funeral and from there, things only get worse for him for some time. One of his best friends dies in a road accident and the girl he's madly in love with marries his older brother. 
      ( At least, I thought brightly, she was here alone. For the last two years that I'd been worshipping Verity from afar she'd been going out with a gorm-free creature called Rodney Ritchie; his parents owned Ritchie's Reliable Removals in Edinburgh and were keen on alliteration. My father had met them once and coined a new collective noun: an embarrassment of Ritchies.)
He feels the need for some higher meaning in things and discussing religion with his rationalist father only leads to a dispute they never manage to settle. With an utter irony so typical for this book, Prentice's father Kenneth gets struck by lightning while climbing a church.
       (Dad drained his glass and put it down on the glass-topped table between us. 'Feel sorry for yourself because your friend's dead if you want, Prentice,' he said, suddenly calm and sober. 'But don't try to dignify it with what's supposed to be metaphysical angst; it's also known as superstitious shit, and you weren't brought up to speak that language.')
      Between all this madness, Prentice is obsessed with his uncle Rory's unfinished work. Uncle Rory's been missing for about ten years now and nobody knows whether he's dead or alive. He was a writer and was working on something big before he disappeared. Prentice gets his hands on some of Rory's notes (some from aunt Janice, Rory's ex-girlfriend, when he sleeps with her, (no, really) and some from his father's desk) and together with something his friend Ashley told him, he pieces together what it was Rory was writing and suspects Fergus Urvill killed him.
      Fergus' marriage wasn't that happy and one day he saw his wife with another man (one of the Watts). Some time after that, he crashed their car and killed his wife. It's hard to say whether he planned this or reacted on the spur of the moment, but Rory found out and probably confronted Fergus with his suspicions because he wanted to use this story for his literary project. And Fregus killed Rory and threw his body in a loch. Fergus didn't admit anything when Prentice came to him, but the following night, Prentice was attacked. The mysterious intruder didn't succeed in stealing Rory's notes and a few days after that, Fergus Urvill killed himself.
      That's the mystery plot, but I'd say the overall story of the McHoan family is more important here. Apart from current events we're also treated to some flashbacks to Prentice's childhood and also to Kenneth's childhood. We see the relationships in the family and in Prentice's circle of friends develop, and Prentice come to his senses and realize his love for Ashley. The descriptions of Scottish landscape are beautiful. Prentice's student life is... well, what you'd expect, a lot of sex, drink and drugs and talk about the Gulf war. Despite the number of deaths, the book is also quite funny, in that real-life way when absurd things happen at the wrong time.
      So like I said, not many coherent thoughts this time, only that The Crow Road is brilliant (oh, away the crow road = being dead) and definitely worth a read. And that so far, the Birth Year Reading Challenge is going much better than last year.

2 komentáře:

  1. This sounds complex and messy, which is what one likes in a family saga! Not to mention all the Big Issues are included, so there's plenty of substance, too. Great choice!

  2. Messy is definitely the right word! The good kind of messy:)