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The Crow Road by Iain Banks

The Crow Road (original 1992; edition 1994)

by Iain Banks

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2,421342,563 (4.01)195
Title:The Crow Road
Authors:Iain Banks
Info:Abacus (1994), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Scottish fiction, family saga

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The Crow Road by Iain Banks (1992)

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    The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Anonymous user)

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English (32)  Dutch (2)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
The Crow Road starts off as a low-key family chronicle. It begins by quietly unfolding itself in alternating chapters, switching between timelines, when it follows the young student Prentice and his storytelling father Kenneth about fifteen years apart, as they negotiate the familial bonds and tensions that keep a large family and assorted in-laws tied together or driven apart. Banks slowly builds up tension and momentum, fills out his characters’ personalities to the point where they cannot but clash, and almost unnoticably his family-cum-coming-of-age-novel turns into a mystery that hurtles towards a signature climax that comes close to being over the top, but is carried off beautifully.

Banks mixes the tragic with the growing-up experiences; the contemplative quest for life’s answers and god with the comedic; and the ambitious mingling of genres with the low-key tone of a skilful author in control. The masterful telling of these stories as well as Banks’ love for his characters and the setting kept me interested, even in the parts dedicated mostly to character development, because I could tell he was going somewhere big, and I’d enjoy it more if I got to know the characters better.

The characters are likable or immature in precisely the right way: not as a way to trigger cheap reader involvement, but as relevant to the story and how it was told. The out-of-the-blue stretches with humour, the sudden events and plot twists, and even the creeping genre shift did not seem like cover-ups for a story out of the author’s control, but felt entirely natural: at all levels, the novel was kept shifting and moving, even at low speeds.

The more I think about it, the more I like this novel: it was well-plotted, well-executed, and told even better by an author who clearly knows his trade. ( )
  Petroglyph | Dec 22, 2014 |
This book is written in a very non-linear style which made it very difficult to comprehend what was going on at the beginning. Once I understood the rhythm of the narrative what developed was a very well written, interesting story of a family in Scotland. Banks did an excellent job with characterization, not only in defining them but making me really care what happened to them. This is a slower paced book that kept my interest to the end and actually left me wanting more. Highly recommend. ( )
  mlbelize | Jan 27, 2014 |
i really loved this book, but saying exactly why might be a little bit tricky. because it's in a way a family novel, which presents as fairly ordinary, not my type of reading matter at all, and not looking too ambitious in what it does with it either, just comfortable, you know? except for the fact that in a way, it's absolutely perfect. it loves its characters, who are all so real they fly off the page. it loves its setting, the part of Scotland which Banks i must assume comes from. it's a love letter, really, to the land and to the people of that country. it doesn't read like it's engaged in Important Work. but it nails it, nails them all, the whole damn thing, with every line.

there are no tricks to the writing, unless we count Banks' usual habit of not writing chronologically, so that you have to mostly guess the date of every bit, and extrapolate who's got the talking stick. and until you notice that in a way, he isn't so much writing a family saga as a murder mystery, across two generations. i went so far as to create some genealogical charts, i got so absorbed in the hidden shape of the narrative; next time (and there will be one) i read it, i will probably be able to fill in more, sketch out three or four generations of McHoans and Watts and Urvills, fit them into their proper places. it's not that you'll need to. it's just that the book made me want to; and it was a vantage point, a bit outside the story, that gave me an excuse to stop for a bit, so i could enjoy a bit longer whatever page i was reading.

you know how sometimes a book is so full of little stories and characters that come to life and won't let go? so you don't want that little bit to end, much less the whole thing? it was like that, really. Lewis grabs off his younger brother's obsession object, Verity Walker, which is a good thing because the oblivious Prentice is obviously meant for Ashley Watt, who is smarter than he is, even smart enough to wait till he figures it out. Prentice is also at war with his father Kenneth McHoan, a gifted storyteller who has in some sense raised all of Prentice's generation on a steady diet of stories which Prentice at some point rejects as lies. like his father's vantage point on religion, which he takes exception to as colouring his world. then his father dies and this foolish one-sided estrangement on (shaky) principle cannot be mended. which sets Prentice to doggedly looking for Kenneth's younger brother Rory in his lost manuscripts, Rory who wrote in youth a travel book of some reputation, and then disappeared.

Prentice then is a young man, both lovable and misguided, looking for his muse and his purpose in all the wrong places and attempting doggedly to make his own story, shape his own life. but Rory's story resists him, partly because he has rejected his father's story, and now he cannot fix that, or find himself. then Rory's story itself proves to be much different than the one he imagined. not to mention dangerous, leading him to not one but three different murders over time, while his search creates a threat both to his family and his own person that he is slow to divine. he can't go on being oblivious to everything around him. especially when simultaneously meddling. now he must act to protect what he loves, and to do that he must identify what he really does love, and care about.

so on that level, it's a coming of age story, surrounded by complicated families, relationships, and stories Prentice has tried to escape, although they have made him. it all comes together as Prentice really finds himself, in an accelerated process he is ill prepared for, except inasmuch as his whole life has prepared him. simple, right? every line of it worked, and i knew them all, and their surroundings too, the land they all love, even the ones who hardly notice, even those like Kenneth who try to pin it down, and even those like his brother Rory and his three sons, who all try very hard to escape it.

so, a story with many levels of structure buried in plain sight. a family saga, a murder mystery, a coming-of-age story, a regional novel. and more (it's really about the nature and the power of stories, for instance)(and the process of finding your own voice, not only in writing but in life)(okay, stopping now). from a master storyteller who's himself just getting started here, and who effortlessly always manages to make the reader care about whatever story he's writing today, and everything and everyone on every page. and the crow road, in the vernacular? that's the road that leads to death, that we are all on, though hopefully not coming to the end of that today. ( )
3 vote macha | Jan 12, 2014 |
'Twas good. Enjoyed it. Just started reading it and learned that the author, Iain Banks, had died of terminal cancer. Poor chap. I hope to read a few more of his novels. He also wrote science fiction books, one of which i'd read, [b:The Algebraist|12009|The Algebraist|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347984880s/12009.jpg|2465248]. ( )
  richardcjennings | Nov 11, 2013 |
In reading one of the other reviews, someone mentioned that the book was a little slow going until it hit a "can't put down" moment about 350 pages into the book. I would have to agree with this. I enjoyed the book in the first 350 pages. The characters were interesting enough to keep me reading, but there wasn't enough forward motion in the plot to keep me from putting the book down. After that magic moment, I finished the book in 2 days having reached a point where I grasped at least some of the importance of the setup in the first 350 pages. I did enjoy it - the story was worth telling and told well - although I think I still enjoyed the Bridge more. ( )
  stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain Banksprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Partanen, AnuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Dorothy CaricoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Again, for Ann,

And with thanks to:

James Hale,

Mic Cheetham,

Andy Watson

and Steve Hatton
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It was the day my grandmother exploded.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Prentice McHoan returns home to his complex but enduring Scottish family. Relations with his father are strained and the woman of his dreams is simply out of reach. He is also deeply preoccupied with death, sex, God, drink and illegal substances. But his greatest preoccupation is with Uncle Rory, a traveler and some-times magician, whose most successful act had been his own disappearance...

When Prentice McHoan, the irrepressible hero of Banks's wily novel whose loves include drink, cars, girls and history, returns from university in Glasgow to his family home in Gallanach for his grandmother's funeral, his thoughts turn to his uncle Rory, a travel writer who disappeared eight years earlier. When Prentice runs into Janice, an old girlfriend of Rory's, the two wonder together if Rory has gone away the Crow Road (Scottish for died), and Janice reveals that Rory gave her a folder of his poems and notes before he disappeared. Rory's writings are tantalizingly cryptic and turn out to include outlines for a novel-in-progress titled Crow Road. Fueled by his uncle's notes, his own curiosity and a good bit of brown liquor, Prentice sets off to find his uncle in an engaging narrative that admirably balances bawdy Scottish humor, crafty character development and some good old-fashioned mystery. Prentice finds his closure—for better or for worse—and things are tied up neatly (maybe too neatly) by the end. Readers unfamiliar with Banks's prodigious output have a great starting point here.
Haiku summary
Unsolved mystery
and issues with family.
Prentice comes of age.


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Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Relations with his father are strained, his brother is funnier and better-looking than he is, and the woman of his dreams is out of reach.

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