Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Iain Banks - Raw Spirit

There comes a time (or a book) in most author's canon, when devoted readers realise that the author they have loved for a long time isn't perfect. I well remember the moment I realised as a teenager that Robert Heinlein wasn't the amazing visionary I'd thought, but a rather bigoted dirty old man.

Iain Banks will never be described like that. Nor, I hope, will the rest of his literary output sink as low in my opinion as this one.

"Raw Spirit" is a travel book about drink and life. It's subtitled "In search of the perfect dram", and is about Banks' journey around the Scottish distilleries that produce, with centuries old practices and care, his favourite tipple.

Unfortunately, while the book has many interesting points and amusing anecdotes. That's really all it has got. It reads a bit like the conversation a sober person has with a close friend who has drank too much. So Banks' rambling anecdotes are amusing, but only as amusing as those that every group of friends has.

The interesting bits of history of the various glens, towns and distilleries are short and far between. And you have to be a real "petrol-head" to find the overlong eulogies to cars, motorbikes and roads of any real interest.

Banks rightly wears his politics on his sleeve. He's an unreconstructed socialist, and he polemicises against the Iraq war throughout the book (though there is little new here, and at times you feel that Banks was the only one who opposed the conflict).

This opposition is good, but it tends to get on your nerves as he discusses once again how much money he's spent on drink, cars, motorbikes and the like - this is hardly a book for the working-class Glaswegian who likes whiskey and wants to find the perfect dram - I suspect they'll go away feeling slightly worthless.

It's a real shame the book turned out like this, I suspect it was envisaged very different, it's a long way from Iain Banks' novels in style and substance and I can only hope that his latest offering, The Algebraist is a return to form.


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Stefanie said...

OMG! I haven't read Banks before, but I had that very same Heinlein moment!

Jack said...

Hiya bub. Loki from, following your note.

He's a great writer, and this is far from one of his masterworks. But I like the things he was ranting drunkenly about. Not least being the Macallan, yum.

Let me know how the Algebraist goes. And thank you for reading and even more for reacting. (Any chance you'd be interested in submitting your review as a counterpoint for us?)


stardust said...

OK - So it isn't "typical" Banks or what we have come to expect - you have to be of a certain age to appreciate this book - ie 40 plus! I (female) bought this for a male friend "for a laugh" and found that I had inadvertently created a "monster" who is now planning a 10 day taster trip around the isles - his wife is a willing, if bemused, hanger-on and it looks as if my husband is also going to be lured into partaking of the enchantment of this secretive, male-orientated otherworld - all a bit sci-fi if you ask me!