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The Crow Road by Iain Banks

The Crow Road (1992)

by Iain Banks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,711453,380 (4.01)225
From its bravura opening onwards, THE CROW ROAD is justly regarded as an outstanding contemporary novel. 'It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.' Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and future, he is also deeply preoccupied: mainly with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances...… (more)
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    The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Anonymous user)

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» See also 225 mentions

English (42)  Dutch (2)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Actually I didn't give it full 5 starts only because I suspect I might be a little biased in its favour, on account of this being one of the very, very few writings I know taking place somewhere I had lived myself (Glasgow & Argyll), so that there was some personal sentimental value added to the book's general merit. ( )
  Stravaiger64 | Oct 21, 2019 |
The day that Prentice McHoan’s grandmother explodes is the day that the McHoan family essentially starts blowing apart. Prentice has always wondered about what happened to his freewheeling Uncle Rory, a somewhat itinerant travel writer who hasn’t been seen in about a decade. And other members of his family seem to be possessed of secrets and deep undercurrents. Meanwhile, it’s the early 1990s, the Gulf War is starting to rage, and Prentice himself is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Investigating what happened to Rory, and what his fragmentary unfinished writings mean, becomes an obsession.

This is the sort of book you really need to sit with and immerse yourself in, like Prentice becomes immersed in the secrets of his family’s past. Once I found the time to do so, I couldn’t put it down. The shifts in timelines are handled well, for the most part — toward the very end it gets a bit tangled. But there are some rewarding “aha!” moments. A bonus for 21st-century readers is the opportunity to hoot with laughter at early 1990s computers (I love that sort of thing). And bonuses for this particular 21st-century reader were the scene involving the airplane (yay airplanes!) and the fact that Peter Capaldi played Uncle Rory in the miniseries and was very well cast, based on what I’ve read here.

I was personally less than fond of some of the sex scenes, but they can easily be squint-read or skimmed over.

I’d recommend this if you’ve heard of the miniseries and want to read the book, or if you’re interested in Scottish fiction. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Aug 18, 2019 |
This fascinating, very literate novel begins with a funeral, and its description in the first paragraph of the book has become somewhat iconic:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.”

(Apparently, someone forgot to remove Grandma’s pacemaker before the cremation.)

The narrator, Prentice McHoan, thinks a lot about “the crow road,” which is a Scottish expression for death, and the possibility (or not) of an afterlife. Prentice, the product of a rather dysfunctional (in its own unique way, of course) family, also contemplates his romances, the life of his father, and the fate of his Uncle Roary, who disappeared eight years earlier. The book goes back and forth in time (often with only a slight hint about the transition from the author), but most of the story takes place in the present, which in this story is 1991. In that year, Prentice was a university student from the imaginary village of Gallanach in Argyll, and Britain was about to enter the First Gulf War.

Banks adds a number of [fun to look back at today] cultural references that help situate the book in time, and which must have added a sense of relevancy when he published it in 1992.

Prentice, estranged from his father who is an avowed atheist, has trouble accepting the stoicism about death advocated by atheists. Nor does he care to embrace the concept of death as the total end of the road. His ruminations on the meaning of life and death are a central theme of the book.

In a remarkable plot evolution, the Bildungsroman of the first 400 pages becomes - for about 90 pages, a murder mystery, although we cannot be sure whether there was in fact a murder.

Along the way, there is a good deal of humor, especially over family relationships, and some excellent character development. The ending resolves the mysteries as well as some of the existential angst.

Banks is a clever and competent, though occasionally florid, writer. I wanted to read this book because it has been called a modern classic, and because I had heard that it provides a fairly accurate snapshot of some of the elements in Scotland that inform the culture. There is a great deal about cars, whisky, and storytelling. In addition, Scotland itself serves as a character, with Banks often setting the scene with fog-covered cliffs, old burial sites, henges, and the castles - both intact and not so much - that still dot the landscape.

The book was adapted by the BBC into a popular TV series in Britain in 1996.

Evaluation: The Crow Road is not a page turner, but it's not really a murder mystery either. It is more of a family saga with a coming-of-age protagonist and an interesting twist. I won’t soon forget Prentice McHoan and his family.

(JAB) ( )
1 vote nbmars | May 30, 2019 |
This was a case of too much of a good thing. I liked everything about this book - engaging characters, smart writing, humor, interesting structure. I also liked the Hamlet-like situation of the main character, Prentice. But it just went on too long. And the mystery of the disappearance of Prentice's uncle was sometimes a driving part of the book and sometimes got lost for long stretches. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
One can't approach a review of Crow Road without stepping in some Dark, as it were. the morbid humor of the opening salvo continues but really takes precedent over the novel as an organism and what we are left with is a too-convenient tale of redemption and triumph. I suppose fan's of Bank's wit will mutter a feck off and reread it out of spite. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain Banksprimary authorall editionscalculated
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
First words
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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