Monday, October 06, 2008
Iain Banks - The Steep Approach to Garbadale
The complex relationships at the heart of big business have been a theme in earlier works by Iain Banks, though in "The Steep Approach to Garbadale" the author looks at the much more difficult business relationships caused by a large family run organisation.
The Wopulds run an immensely successful company that made its initial fortune manufacturing the Empire board game around the world. The game itself seems to be a more complex version of Risk - since it's invention, further success and profits have been made as the game has expanded into the world of arcades, consoles and PCs.
The story focuses on Alban McGill (amusingly nicknamed All Bran by his more working class friends) whose difficult relationship with his family centres on his mother suicide (graphically described early in the novel) and his love affair with his cousin Sophie. Alban is constantly on the metaphorical run, suffering the consequences of his traumatic childhood and the pressure inherent in being a liberal leftie, part of a rich, profit motivated family (at one point he is told off by the family matriarch for expressing his displeasure at her toast 'free trade not fair trade')
All this comes to a head as the Wopulds face being bought out by a giant American games corporation who desperately want to use the Empire! name to consolidate their power. The run-up to the Emergency General Meeting where this is thrashed out forms the backdrop to Alban confronting his difficult past and finally understanding some of the reality behind a carefully constructed facade.
All well and good. It's an enjoyable read, though the "twist" was fairly obvious long before it was spelled out in the books final pages. But I was left with the feeling that it had all been done before - Nasty Multinational Company? See "The Business". Complex family relationships on remote Scottish estate? See "The Crow Road", liberal central character facing personal angst and danger? See "Dead Air" or just about every other Banks' work.
That's not to say that "The Steep Approach to Garbadale" isn't a good novel, there are a few moments of pure writing genius (The suicide scene being a genuinely dark moment, and the tension as the former lovers, Alban and Sophie find their fishing boat breaks down, is palpable) but these seem to stand out in amongst a story that feels a like it has all been done before.