Iain Banks - The Quarry (4 stars)

Iain Banks' final book skillfully portrays our increasingly digital world with his celebrated witty black comedy

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Iain Banks: The Quarry

(Little, Brown)

Brought forward for publication following Iain Banks’ announcement three months ago that he is ‘officially Very Poorly’ with terminal cancer, The Quarry initially seems a uniquely difficult read. The fact that one of its main characters is in the final stages of that same vicious illness ensures that the author’s own situation is never far from the reader’s mind. But Banks’ instinct for fierce black comedy is as sharp as ever, and he has written a very funny final book, a deceptively simple story packed with perceptive character analyses, bitingly witty dialogue and a fascination with our increasingly digital world.

The Quarry is narrated by Kit, a socially awkward, mildly autistic 18-year-old who lives with and looks after his cancer-stricken father Guy. The story involves a last weekend reunion of Guy’s old uni pals, before the house he and Kit live in is demolished to make way for an expansion of the adjacent quarry: an event that Guy is unlikely to live enough to see.

In using Kit as narrator, Banks has given himself an ingenious way to approach his story. Kit is both an obsessively analytical observer (watching from the perspective of youth the way these friendships have either endured or been dropped) and a key central character, standing to lose the most out of all of them. The plot is arguably too slight, but Banks’ handling of big, complex themes is skillful and satisfying, and he concludes on a quietly moving note of compassion.

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