The Death of Iain Banks

10 Jun

It was with shock and sadness that I learned yesterday of the untimely death of the writer, Iain Banks. I’d heard something about his next book being his last, but hadn’t found out why. Banks reported that he was 80,000 or so words through his latest novel concerning a man in his 40s dealing with terminal cancer when he found out that he himself had the same disease, the same prognosis. That appalling irony may turn out to be the ‘Iain Banks fact’ that gets remembered, like the ‘fact’ of Shakespeare’s dying on his own birthday.

I’m not about to pretend that I’m the biggest fan of Banks’ work. In the late 90s, the two Ia[i]ns, Banks and McEwan, were numbered among the leading British novelists by many. I’d read both of their débuts (The Wasp Factory and The Cement Garden respectively) and had been underwhelmed. Clearly, they were inventive and well-written but I didn’t find them as earth-shattering as some people were claiming them to be. On a plane back to England from Helsinki around that time, I was sitting next to a guy who was reading Banks’ latest, The Business, while I was reading McEwan’s Enduring Love. We were both near the end of our respective books and so during the flight we undertook an ‘Ian swap’. Again, I have to say, I wasn’t greatly taken with either book. I perhaps liked the idea of Banks’ books more than the artefacts themselves.

I do know plenty of people who hold Banks’ work in the highest regard, however. Among his many passions – acting and directing, old houses and classic cars – my friend, Paul Baker loves everything that Banks ever wrote. And my writing friend, Huw Evans is a big admirer of the universe that he created in his SF novels. It was what I saw of  the man that impressed me most. I saw him speak at Lincoln University at some point in the 90s. He was funny, erudite and personable. He always came across well in interviews and I recall a fascinating TV programme (I don’t see many) about his living in the shadow of the Forth Bridge. He spoke out where he saw injustice and was a great friend by all accounts, including to the singer, Fish! And then there was the business of his splitting himself in two as the literary novelist, Iain Banks and the SF author, Iain M Banks – a move for which he received my respect. And what can one say about someone who writes a novel about a prog rock band? He is indeed irreplaceable.

RIP, Iain Banks.


4 Responses to “The Death of Iain Banks”

  1. J.D.Hughes June 10, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    Indeed, Paul. I second ‘irreplaceable.’ I was much more impressed with ‘The Wasp Factory’ and thought it broke a mouldy mould of mainstream novel writing that had existed for at least twenty years, but I can see how others might not have felt that and found it somewhat gratuitous. ‘The Crow Road’ I could take or leave, but it had some merit. I shall, of course, be reading ‘The Quarry’.

    Everything is opinion in the end and Iain Banks cares nothing for ours now, if he ever did. Travel well, Iain.

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves June 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi J.D. and thanks for your comments. There’s no doubting that he was a man of enormous talents and he came across as a fine fellow too. His books weren’t particularly to my tastes but he had a first-rate imagination and gave many thousands of readers great pleasure. What I think about his books wouldn’t have come within a million miles of his radar, and as you say, it wouldn’t have bothered him anyway!

  3. Mari Biella June 11, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    A beautiful tribute, Paul. I was very saddened to hear of Banks’ death. Like you, I wasn’t his greatest fan, though I did basically enjoy such works of his as I read. And, as J.D. says, my opinion is neither here nor there. He entertained and engaged many, many readers, and that in itself is a testament to his talent.

    There seems little else to say. Rest in peace, Mr Banks.

  4. Paul Sutton Reeves June 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Hi Mari and thanks for your comments. We’re all of us diminished when a fellow human being dies, as is the community of writers when a particularly skilful one of its number passes on. The books and the memory of the man will live on.

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